Marketing Monday: Prep for Your Retail Future with Market Research

Marketing Monday is PayGo’s weekly-ish feature where we tell you how to do business good. Proper grammar not guaranteed.

Once upon a time, sir Francis Bacon told the world (or at least mentioned it to a friend or two) that, “scientia potentia est.” For those of you who flunked out of the prerequisite Latin class taught to all children in America, that translates to “Knowledge is Power” (I know, I thought it was from Schoolhouse Rock too). He also died of pneumonia after studying how to preserve meat by freezing it, so there’s two questions you can answer for trivia night.

Yeah, he was kinda weird, but the man sure could pull off a dapper hat.

So why are we talking about sir Bacon today? Because of market research, obviously!

Market research is the science of knowing what your customers and competitors are up to, so you can be ahead of the curve. And there are a lot of places that you can hire to do that kind of research for you, but as far as affordability for a small business goes, market research sits somewhere between “I sure could use a real day off,” and “You guys, it’s literally raining cash money” on the “not gonna happen right now” scale. Which is why I’m here to help, fearless entrepreneur! Doing your own market research is (relatively) easy, if you know what you should be looking at and how to go about doing it.

Step One: Make a Plan

Focus is always a good thing, obviously (or so I’ve been told; I can never do it for long before I magenta yogurt bumblebee). What do you want to know about your market? Since that’s kinda vague, here are some reasons you might want to start in on your research:

  • What are the shoppers within your niche buying?
  • What are your direct competitors doing to attract customers?
  • Is your pricing competitive?
  • What other businesses around town are carrying the same products as you?
  • What are the businesses within your niche doing to stay competitive, not just in your town but all over the world?
  • How are the older businesses in your town able to keep themselves open for so long?
  • What are the new businesses in your town trying to do?

Those are just a few ideas. Once you figure out what you want to learn from this exercise, we can proceed to…

Step Two: Find Your Resources

There are tons of resources in your community and online that can help you with your investigative work. And don’t get too rigid with the definition of resources; anyone or anything could be helpful to your research. Could the local Chamber of Commerce give you any information? Maybe your grandparents are willing to talk about How Things Used to Be in the world of business and shopping. That gaggle of teenagers hanging out in the corner of your store? They might have something important to say (after all, they are the future). There’s also trade publications, the US Census Bureau, the library, or even the phone book if you’re more of an old-school investigator. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a phone book is an ancient invention we Olds liked to use to prop up wobbly table legs. You might recognize it as the enormous block of paper you trip over when you’re trying to get into your house twice a year.

They also make passable dog toys.

Or, you know, just do some social media stalking. It works for finding out what your ex is up to, so why not use it to see what your competition is up to, too?

Step Three: Prepare

You probably think that there isn’t a ton of prep work to be done for research. Wrong, kinda! You may need to set up meetings, assemble customer survey materials, and purchase clever disguises or brush up on your Mission: Impossible data-finding skills. But if we’re not being silly (I would never!), you should know ahead of time what kind of questions you want to ask people, and exactly what information you’re trying to find. Questions such as…

  • What is important to you in (whatever product you specialize in selling)?
  • What’s your budget like?
  • How often do you shop?
  • What other places do you like to buy the stuff we sell?
  • Why do you shop with us?
  • What would you like to see more of in the future, as far as (products or product lines that you sell) go?
  • What do you like/dislike about (your competitors)?

It’s important to keep your questions neutral. As in, you want the answers you get to be honest and unbiased, so try to keep your personal biases out of them.

Step Four: Do the Thing

Put boots to pavement! Hang out in the publications section of the library for an afternoon. Create a survey for your online followers and/or for your in-store customers. Put together a focus group. Be friendly and take your competitors out for a coffee so you can talk shop. Wander into a PTA meeting (do your kids go to school there? Maybe!) or and start asking parents about where, exactly, they got that top and why they got it where they did. Tackle people on the street, steal their left shoe, and refuse to give it back until they answer your questions about their favorite places to buy bobbins. The time you spend now could help your business for years in the future, and it will be well worth the bail money (note: do not actually do anything that would require bail money).

I’m sure Sir Francis would approve.

PayGo is a solution provider for independent retailers based in Rochester, Minnesota. Our primary focus is on point of sale / retail management software. We also offer a Merchant Account integration, a WooCommerce integration, Digital Marketing Services, and more.

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