Market research within retail is often done through online surveys or in-depth focus groups. These practices can generate deeper insight into customer preferences, however, they can also be time-consuming and irrelevant by the time it comes to actual product development.
So, what if there was an easier way to gauge what the customer wants?
This is the thinking behind Studio Connect – a proprietary app being used by US retailer, Target. The brand’s senior vice president of product design and development, Julie Guggemos, told Fast Company that Studio Connect enables “designers to interact with guests at any point while developing products, encouraging conversations, and adding a level of flexibility to the formal feedback process.”
‘Guests’ is the operative word here, as Studio Connect isn’t an app for the masses. It’s reserved for 600 members – each one personally invited on the basis of their previous online reviews and survey engagement. This is just one feature that makes the app interesting.
So, what else sets it apart? Here’s more on Studio Connect and how it’s helping Target to revolutionise the notion of customer feedback.
Understanding customer needs
While online reviews might give an indication of what customers want or don’t want again in future, Studio Connect is deliberately designed to determine what products customers want to buy (that aren’t currently available).
The app also acts as a direct channel of opinion for Target designers, with each designer having an account on the app through which they can crowdsource opinions and ideas. Last year, for example, a question was posted asking members what message they’d put on a t-shirt to celebrate Mother’s Day.
According to Fast Company, questions like this tend to generate an average of 40 to 50 responses. Then, as themes and patterns emerge, Target is able to gauge the general consensus and use it to develop products.
Alongside general product ideas, Studio Connect also helps Target to understand specific consumer needs, as well practice ‘inclusive design’. Broadly speaking, inclusive design tends to mean designing products that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as possible – without the need for adaptation. For Target, it also stretches to designing products specifically for people with disabilities.
Previously, Target expanded its ‘Cat and Jack’ kids clothing line to include items with no tags and flat seams for people on the autism spectrum. It also added clothing with holes for feeding tubes, fabric designs that create less friction in wheelchairs, and wide leg openings for leg braces.
Studio Connect allows Target to further its commitment to inclusivity, by speaking directly with members who live with disabilities or have friends or family that do.
The feedback itself isn’t the only reason behind Studio Connect. This kind of information could arguably be gathered from other forms of market research, such as customer surveys and focus groups. However, this kind of research typically takes weeks to complete, resulting in products being produced based on information that might no longer be relevant.
In contrast, Studio Connect acts as a source of real-time feedback, with questions being asked at any time before, during, or after a product’s development. Essentially, it breaks down formal processes to make feedback more fluid, and fast-paced.
The ‘members-only’ nature of the app also ensures that the feedback is gathered from the most relevant people. Target only speaks to people who are heavily invested in the brand, and who are more than likely to buy the end products.
— Christina Mazza (@christinameeow) July 31, 2018
This type of real-time feedback is also effective for driving real customer-centric decision making. Traditional market research – as well as involving delays – is less direct and can therefore be less front-of-mind when the time comes to act on it. When product development reaches the planning stage, insight can be watered down or even forgotten. In contrast, real-time feedback can be more actionable and derived from real and relevant need.
So, what’s the incentive for members of Studio Connect? Interestingly, there’s no monetary compensation, with reports suggesting that participants only receive special points that can then be turned into discounts or gift cards.
This is undoubtedly a bonus, however another big incentive (perhaps even more so) for members to actively participate is the experience itself – one that instils a sense of real involvement in the brand and its products. This can be general ideas which might then come to fruition, but it can also be actual designs which are subsequently created. This practice, known as ‘co-creation’, is one that many other brands have also undertaken.
Made.com, for example, has the ‘Made Talent Lab’ – an annual content whereby budding furniture designers submit their own designs, and the winning idea is created and sold online. Lego has a similar initiative, with its ‘Ideas’ hub allowing customers to submit suggestions as well as vote for others.
The benefit of these co-creation efforts – and even more so for Target, where the app allows members to continuously submit feedback – is that it instils in customers the sense that they’re valued and listened to. In turn, Target is able to generate greater customer loyalty, and a ready-made audience for the products it creates.
It’s unclear exactly how Target is making use of all its app data, however, analysis could prove to be beneficial for its localisation strategy.
Recently, Target has ventured into microretailing, opening up a number of small-format stores across the US to cater to a specific customer and their location (i.e. a big city or near a college campus).
Delving into location data (or asking new members to join based on their location) could help Target to make smarter decisions in relation to its micro-stores. It could uncover the products that are more in demand in certain areas, or the amount of stock to put on shelves depending on location.
Finally, it could even help the retailer to determine new locations based on actual customer demand.
For more brand case studies, join us at the Festival of Marketing 2018, October 10-11, London.