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The importance of speaking to non-purchasers

Published under Research methods , Retail
Written by Josh Brinkers

I’ve got a mate who’s a keen angler.

He very neatly fits the stereotype. His Facebook page proudly displays pictures of fish instead of friends, his army-surplus bush hat may as well be glued to his head, and he’s got an intricate knowledge of the varied (yet consistently brown) species of fish occupying our waterways. He’s even perpetually going on about ‘the one that got away’. And actually, it’s that last quality that always gets my attention; he genuinely seems more interested in the fish he failed to catch than the ones he did.

And I think it’s a wonder that retailers aren’t more like him when it comes to their customers.

A retailer depends on people who buy things from their stores, so naturally their opinion is the primary target for any sort of in-store research. The trouble is, once the data’s been collected, the questions answered and the budgets spent, it often becomes quite obvious that much less attention was given to anyone who didn’t buy something on their visit.

So why is that a problem? Why worry about someone who had no effect at all, someone who may as well have not turned up in the first place? Someone who didn’t even buy anything?

Well, the thing is they might have done if things had been different. Non-purchasers are customers that have, essentially, fallen at the last hurdle; much of the leg work has already been done when it comes to someone who chooses not to buy on the day. A non-purchaser is already aware of the retailer in question, and evidently regards them as both interesting and convenient enough to be worth a visit. All they needed on the day was a final nudge towards conversion, whether it was an attractive product, better service or a sale to be running that week.

That’s really the key benefit of interviewing non-purchasers. Finding out why they haven’t bought something can reveal anything, from an ‘easy win’ to a fundamental issue within the business that needs urgent change. Focusing on purchasers is much less likely to ever reveal a serious problem.

And that’s the other thing. Without non-purchasers, research can be extremely one-sided and artificially positive. I’ve personally never conducted any research where purchasers were less positive than non-purchasers, and the trend towards using till receipt surveys (which, by definition, only reach purchasers) means retailers are often blind to any problems that could be holding them back. It’s understandable; positive results are nice to hear (and, for what it’s worth, nice for me to present). However, it’s worth remembering that while a high NPS and reels of praise from purchasers look great for PR, increased sales from converting non-purchasers look even better.

But this sort of work doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) stop in-store. Potential customers exist amongst people who have yet to even visit a retailer, and wider catchment surveys are capable of gathering a global view on the position of the brand in the market as a whole. Understanding levels of awareness, brand perceptions and advertising recall are a crucial part in sniffing out any issues.

None of this is to say purchasers should be ignored – their input is just as valuable. However, a wider, more holistic approach seems to be missing as retailers increasingly focus on more ‘hands-off’ methods to find out what their customers think, and it could be costing them considerably.

 Have a look at our Voice of the Non-Customer suite of tools and get in touch if you think it’s something you’d be interested in chatting to us about.