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Saturday, 20 December 2014

A week in the life of a clientside researcher

Crunching data, meeting shoppers, briefing the board – and rubbing shoulders with pop singers? It’s all part of the job for Phil Tysoe, insight and analysis manager at Argos.

Monday

The kids are off school this week, which makes for an easy commute and, with any luck, some more sales of paddling pools and play sand. I listen out for any cheery economic news on the radio, but there’s none forthcoming.

Monday in retail is always the day to review the past week’s performance and look for pointers for the week ahead. I spend some of the morning studying sales reports and reading news digests. Also catch up with the team about their weekends - someone has been baking so we all start the week with cake.

Every month we review our key customer metrics with the executive board, and today is that day. We use indicators from various sources – brand tracking, mystery shopping, exit surveys, our panel – to give an overview of how customers feel about Argos. The overall picture is good, with many of our service initiatives bearing fruit, but because these execs don’t have much time available, it’s important to focus on the areas with further opportunity to improve.

 

Tuesday

In unprecedented scenes someone in a group actually ate some of the sandwiches provided. This is genuinely the first time I’ve ever seen this happen

Big debrief today. Slightly apprehensive before it starts as I haven’t seen the final documentation ahead of time – which is very unusual for me but sometimes it can’t be helped. Today’s audience is the senior trading team – who can be a tough crowd.

My fears are allayed early in the session as the research agency have cleverly integrated their survey results with our sales data, enabling them to present opportunities to the traders in monetary terms. This really gets everyone’s attention (nothing engages trading teams like pound signs) and ensures that the debrief doesn’t get bogged down in discussions about methodology. Worrying about that is my job.

The real work will be following up with the various trading teams to ensure that they’re acting on the findings.

Off to St Albans in the evening to view some focus groups as part of our customer closeness programme – a chance for people in the business to listen to customers talking about what’s important to them. Always fascinating, tonight’s groups are no exception as customers talk about struggling with the downturn and who’s doing a good job for them on value for money. Happily Argos is still well loved among our core customers and we are, in most respects, doing things that they appreciate. Slightly disappointed to have to tell one customer that our new shopping channel is only available on Sky after she was so enthusiastic about it. Perhaps she’ll find it online instead.

In unprecedented scenes someone in a group actually ate some of the sandwiches provided. This is genuinely the first time I’ve ever seen this happen. Behind the glass it was the usual finger buffet - nice, although I do like it when the takeaway menus appear.

 

Wednesday

Meetings in London today, which is a good opportunity to get out of the office and gives me some time to think. Using the tube for the day also gives me a chance to continue my ad hoc study of Kindle and iPad penetration – spotted three today.

First up is meeting our media agency to discuss sharing insights. I’ve got serious office envy as they’ve just moved into a new purpose-built place. More importantly, though, I get a useful overview of their research programme. Definite opportunities to learn from some of their broad pieces of work on UK consumers and things we can do to give them more understanding of Argos.

On to meeting our ad agency in the afternoon to see the proposed new brand campaign work and nail down some creative development research to support it. The team from CSR, the qual agency we use on most of our advertising work, have a great rapport with the ad agency, which is really important in ensuring we can anchor their creativity in customer truths. London’s medialand is a long way from Argos’s heartland.

We work out the broad approach and an outline discussion guide, and agree most of the practical details like stimuli, recruitment criteria and locations. Timings, as usual, are very tight but everyone’s flexible enough to make sure it will get done.

 

Thursday

Clientside research is a constant process of synthesising different sources of information to improve decision-making. It never fails to amaze me how many times revisiting previous research reveals something new

Spent much of the day reading, consolidating and summarising various pieces of recent research in order to communicate them to the business. This is really the heart and soul of what clientside insight is about: a constant process of synthesising different sources of information to improve decision-making. It never fails to amaze me how many times revisiting previous research reveals something new or helps put current thinking in context. Insights, after all, are cumulative.

A few impromptu chats through the day with various colleagues to catch up on what’s happening in their part of the business. This is critically important to understanding how and where customer insights can add value: what decisions is the business trying to make and how can we help? While some of this happens through formal processes and meetings I’ve always found that really influencing people comes about after building relationships with them. Buying them a coffee often works too.

As I’m at my desk for a large part of the day I field a couple of cold calls from prospective agencies – up to 10 of these a week is not uncommon. I tend to review our roster on an annual basis but I don’t mind hearing from new people throughout the year as long as they’re not pushy. It helps, of course, if the caller has done some homework about Argos and can credibly talk about how their research methods could help us.

Later in the afternoon and evening I participate in a customer workshop about our homeware range. Brand consultancy The Value Engineers do a brilliant job of bringing together 25 customers, six clients and four moderators into a lively session which provokes some great conversation. Nice, too, to see the surprise on some customers’ faces when told the products they were critiquing were from Argos and not John Lewis.

 

Friday

During the course of the morning I get to see a McLaren F1 car, receive some tips on self-tanning, and watch former X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke promoting her new range of jewellery. The reason is that Argos is about to launch its latest catalogue and the foyer of the building has been given over to suppliers showcasing their new products. I resist the temptation to ask Alexandra how she feels her Hallelujah cover stands up to the Jeff Buckley version.

Despite the entertainment in the office I spend the rest of the day out visiting stores – it’s a good day for this because a lot of promotional effort is expended at the weekend and will be visible on Fridays.

As well as looking at new retail format developments (today, the recently combined Currys-PC World), I want to spend some time watching customers use our new electronic product browser, which is on trial in a handful of Argos stores as a potential replacement for the laminated catalogues that customers currently use. One of the trial stores has been performing slightly worse than the others so this is the one I visit. After spending a long time in traffic because of road works outside the retail park, it becomes obvious why this store’s performance has lagged. Sometimes you don’t need research to understand customer behaviour.

Spend an hour or so in the store watching customers interact with the browser before playing about with it myself. I’m a great advocate of in-store observational research and the time proves fruitful, with a few issues becoming apparent that should be easy to resolve. I fire off my feedback on the BlackBerry before doing the sales guys a favour by buying a present for my daughter. Nice end to a busy week.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Fascinating and an enjoyable read. Thanks!

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  • Is that right? Can I buy a McLaren F1 in Argos?

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  • * How many pens did you take home with you??!
    * Did you get frustrated at not being able to pay for a mobile phone at the 'pay for it yourself' stands, because it is an 'age restricted product'?

    Good to see you spend time in stores, I think you should spend more and more time in store...or at least your subordinates should on fact finding missions!

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  • * Laminated catalogues are a nightmare - has anyone figured how to get them to stay open on 1 page?
    * plus I know I am getting old, but the product codes are tiny, seriously tiny print...

    Agree - I reckon all staff should get out and about, in store, with customers - that should be a KPI for any researcher in any sector...

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  • Well written Phil.

    A good insight into a typical week. Happy to collect my McLaren but am past self tanning!!

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