Retail research in and after the pandemic

Retail research in and after the pandemic

As the pandemic continues with vaccines presenting a light at the end of the tunnel, how can market researchers best service their clients in a rapidly changing environment?

Reacting to the pandemic

With a year of lockdowns, tiers and forced closures behind us, we operate in a shifting world where purchasers have been forced online and brands have had to scramble to reflect this changing behaviour. Those brands should be relying on research to support their decision making. This in turn puts researchers under pressure to provide actionable insight in an environment where traditional methods may not be appropriate.

The ability for researchers to gather useful data from new types of  transactions is crucial. There’s no doubt that while qualitative research has been harder to conduct, the data has provided quantitative researchers with plenty to get their teeth into. 

The rush to ecommerce has been a challenge for less agile brands. Problems have been caused by flawed strategic thinking as well as occasional PR slips and social media has proved to be a dangerous echo chamber where the slightest misstep can be massively amplified and spread globally within hours. Even the most adaptable brands need a nuanced and timely flow of insight from their research to help them react appropriately.

Looking into the future

From a researcher’s point of view, the ability to conduct focus groups via online platforms, quick satisfaction surveys and questionnaires has no doubt accelerated data collection. How much of that data will remain relevant in a post-pandemic world? Brands will need to understand which changes in behaviour are permanent.

Those brands that have done their utmost to embrace the shift in buying patterns will no doubt reap trust rewards as retail begins to open brick and mortar stores. But nobody really knows what level of footfall the new normal might present. That’s where predictive research becomes crucial; understanding how your customers may return and making sure you’ve made the experience as safe as possible will be vital in the coming months. Warnings of new virus variants mean ongoing vaccination and uncertainty in retail. 

For researchers this has several important implications.

  • Some research effort will need to switch from ‘reporting’ to ‘predicting’
  • Researchers may need to adopt new methods and tools to support their brand clients
  • Researchers will have to take a stronger lead in helping clients plan for the new landscape

Like so many industries, the pandemic will permanently change how the research sector operates. There may be a huge opportunity to move towards a stronger collaboration between researcher and client and to position research as strategic lead in commercial thinking.

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