It’s crucial to discover and analyse shoppers’ needs and desires, says Angela Spindler.

It’s crucial to discover and analyse shoppers’ needs and desires, says Angela Spindler.

However you look at it, 2012 is going to be a tough year. In such challenging times, it is more important than ever for retailers to know who their customers are and what is driving their decisions to ensure they are offered what they want and need.

For that reason, we recently conducted exit interviews with our customers and compared their responses to similar interviews in 2009.

Two years ago, customers were already feeling the pinch of a slowing economy. But the recent interviews confirm they feel even more stretched today.

What consumers want today is more than lower prices – it is greater value for their money. In our most recent survey, 59% of respondents preferred “quality products” over “cheap products” – compared with 48% in 2009.

These survey results play to the strength of The Original Factory Shop, whose aim is to provide quality brands at discounted prices. The results remind us of the importance of maintaining quality and refreshing our offer regularly, right across our ranges of fashion, footwear, home and leisure products.

The recent survey also revealed changes in the profile of our customers. For example, today almost 60% of our shoppers are over 50, compared with 48% in 2009. 

This has implications for what we sell, although we understand that many of our customers are shopping for others in their family with different demographics.

Our latest survey reiterated the importance our customers place on a good shopping experience. We were delighted that 95% of respondents said the staff at their local Original Factory Shop are helpful, and that our service ratings have improved across every measure since 2009.

The fact that our customers value face-to-face contact and interactive service is reinforced by progress in our online business. While we are growing strongly online, we have created a facility that allows customers to place their order for products, from our extended website, in a store and with the help of a sales assistant. 

This is resonating strongly with customers, particularly those who prefer to pay in the store. As at the end of 2011, 35% of our online sales were taken in stores.

As we are in towns typically with populations under 20,000, customer loyalty and repeat visits are very important to our success. In 2011, 49% of our customers said that accessibility and being local are important factors to them.

We are proud of our place on small towns’ high streets; however, the frequency of shop we enjoy as a consequence means we need to stay very focused on changing product ranges regularly to keep them fresh and exciting.

Indeed, 84% of our survey respondents agreed we offer products for the whole family, and that we should continue to innovate and offer breadth, rather than depth, in fewer product categories.

Despite the tough economic climate and pressure for retailers to trim their budgets, it is still important to collect and analyse information about customers’ needs and desires to ensure we are providing exactly what they want. There has never been a more important time to stay close to shoppers to ensure their continued custom in stores and online.

  • Angela Spindler is chief executive of The Original Factory Shop