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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Till receipt surveys get a reality check

It was supposed to be the great innovation in consumer market research; cheap, easy to conduct, incisive. But in reality, the results generated by till receipt surveys have not lived up to expectations, argues Helen Roberts, retail research director at GfK.

It’s easy to see the appeal of till recipet surveys (TRS). Invited to share their comments online, customers are incentivised to take part by a prize draw. Data is returned at individual store level and can pinpoint time of day and even the member of staff involved in the transaction; therefore placing a financial value on the level of satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, experienced by customers. The prospect was compelling: offering actionable results and low running costs. No wonder so many major retailers embraced the concept with gusto.

The fact that the surveys are conducted online was part of the attraction. It means that responders are internet-savvy, indicating that they may be higher-spenders who are willing to engage. However, I have harboured doubts as to the effectiveness of TRS since trialling it for a client. And with more clients approaching us for hard and fast facts on the technique, there are pros and cons that must be explored.

The cons outweigh the pros

Perhaps the most important, yet most surprising factor is the extremely low response rate - less than 1%. Surprising because till staff often point out the survey and the prize draw, hence shoppers can be expected to keep hold of their receipt for a time and surveys are promoted as quick and easy to complete. So what went wrong?

An inherent problem with the TRS is that only purchasers are invited to comment, so missing the swathes of potential customers who decide not to purchase, but whose views may hold just as valuable an insight. Arguably, non-purchasers provide greater insight because they will highlight important issues such as barriers to purchase and customer service failures.

Participants are therefore not a representative sample of the retailer’s shopper base, and responses tend to be extreme in terms of level of satisfaction. This has led retailers to share their concerns that they are not gaining a full understanding of the true customer experience after all.

Such a small, skewed minority might not be the most effective method for providing the basis for a retailer’s action plans and while a prize draw may be a useful tool to incentivise response, GfK’s findings have shown that participation rates are higher among middle-aged and older people who complete multiple surveys.

Ultimately, however, the retailers themselves will draw their own conclusion from the surveys and whether participants are higher value customers voicing truly actionable comments.

Hijacked by the marketing department

Another dilemma is that since their inception, TRS have been increasingly infiltrated by marketing messages and data collection. Whether to advertise the launch of new products or generate customer data for future campaigns, the content of the surveys has rarely remained true to its original purpose. This not only muddies the water for the retailers’ research teams, but might put off customers who otherwise would have responded.
It’s not all bad news

Whilst we doubt the efficacy of TRS as a legitimate long-term research method, we do not deny its potential as a first response mechanism, and it has been useful for retailers as a quick fix to suspected issues such as stock availability and staff behaviour. Thus TRS, if used as a tactical tool, has credence and a place among the routes to customer feedback.

Is there an alternative?

There are many, from the tried and tested, but relatively expensive interviewer administered survey to visually appealing in-store technological approach, via pods or tablets. Although the latter have a high set-up cost, they are less expensive to administer than interviewer-led research. But both of these techniques are more immediate and may encourage all comers to participate, whatever their inclination to purchase or their satisfaction level

Email and SMS surveys offer a lower cost and potentially more effective approach, but both rely on the validity of the initial contact data. The nature of SMS messaging places a limit to the number of questions that can be asked and email surveys may elicit fear of fraud, as well as lack of control over who responds, and when.

Finally, phone and postal surveys are similarly low cost, but largely discounted by agencies and retailers alike as they tend to be slow with low response rates.

What is the future for TRS?

The method undoubtedly has fundamental flaws in terms of representativeness of the data and can easily be abused to gather a raft of customer feedback and data of questionable value or as a marketing tool. This said, its low cost makes it an attractive proposition and it’s certainly useful for providing rapid feedback that can be used to monitor and adjust customer service practices. In conclusion, although insufficient as a stand-alone technique, used correctly TRS can have a place in a portfolio of customer feedback tools.

Steps to make TRS an actionable element of retail research

  • Incentivise to improve response volume
  • Keep survey short & focused on shopper- relevant KPIs
  • Encourage staff to alert customers to the survey
  • Carry POS merchandising to promote survey
  • Maximise the visibility of the invite on the till receipt

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Readers' comments (8)

  • I am glad to see someone clearly list the pros and cons of this research approach. It reminds me of the old days when hotels had guest satisfaction cards in the room and many restaurants had them on the tables. While this approach was effective in identifying and correctly problems immediately, it suffered from the same biases mentioned in this article.

    One pro that we have found useful is if it can be tied to a store's loyalty card. It can be an effective (yet still biased) way to find users of low incidence products.

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  • Thanks for pointing out the challenges of TRS - we at Decision Fuel also think that the current state of TRS is lacking in some areas.

    However, I'm not sure I understand your explanation regarding how the 1% response rate is explained by the fact that only purchasers are invited to participate, assuming the 1% is calculated by the # of completed surveys / # of surveys distributed. To me these are separate issues. From our experience, a low TRS response rates is due to factors such as the delayed response time (customers have to remember to take the survey the next time they're in front of a computer), the length of time customers are allowed to participate (i.e. 45 days, leads to procrastination and eventual non-participation), surveys being too long (respondent fatigue sets in at 10-12 questions) which leads to drop-off or low quality data, irrelevant/non-meaningful incentives, etc.

    We think that a combination of TRS and SMS surveying may be a better solution (with the TRS system providing a code that verifies actual contact). Using mobile to conduct surveys allows for instant feedback (higher quality data) and the mobile format forces marketers to be focused in their surveying which will help drive more meaningful data collection. Shorter surveys also increase response rates.

    Completely agree with using TRS as a early response mechanism, but that only really works if you get timely data (vs. 30 days later or whenever the customer remembers to go online and take the survey). With mobile technology you can capture "in-the-moment" data and can truly have an early response system.

    Amy (amy@decision-fuel.com)

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  • Modern lifestyles are increasingly reliant on ease of engagement, simplicity, convenience and choice. Mobile phones are increasingly ubiquitous and are the channel of communication preference so i have no problem understanding why TRS's have failed to deliver when asking people to go online at a time that is not real-time, is inconvenient and requires them to really want to. We at OnePoint Global are seeing large volume TRS survey programmes adding mobile to both cut cost and increase engagement and insight. This is proving very successful and example case studies can be found on our website resources. Great article thanks Helen

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  • An interesting article, and would largely agree with the points made by Amy, but surprised about the comment in the article that:

    "An inherent problem with the TRS is that only purchasers are invited to comment, so missing the swathes of potential customers who decide not to purchase, but whose views may hold just as valuable an insight. "

    In traditionally implemented TRS, yes, this is the case. However at FeebackMatters we advocate using TRS as part of an integrated data collection process that uses the same core infrastructure to collect feedback from both customers and "non-customers" in an integrated manner.

    Likewise, procrastination issues can be effectively addressed by:
    1) Using mobile accessible platforms (such as FeedbackMatters.org) AND making potential respondents aware of mobile accessibility; and
    2) Sliding scale incentivisation to encourage early participation.

    It's also easy for more sophisticated systems to gather feedback onsite - and at much lower cost than has traditionally been associated with these techniques.

    The key, in our view, is that TRS needs to be viewed as an integral element of the research mix and deployed appropriately.

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  • I think most people have become immune to reading the bottom of any recept. I can't believe how much paper I get from a Home Depot receipt these days! A different style of invitation is needed to catch they eye of the mobile consumer.

    A SMS and/or QR has proven much more effective for our clients. People still like to speak their mind... just reach out on the right channel.

    Great article Helen, and great comments.

    Ross
    www.circlefive.com

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  • How much do companies pay for a till survey?

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  • We are starting define a customer service strategy and not sure how to begin a customer survey to measure where we currently are. Looking for some education on what technology is available, understand the response rates, options, issues and then decide what direction we should proceed with before investing.

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  • Doug. There are many many ways. We do point of experience feedback only - largely via the mobile phone (SMS, Voice and web). The feedback produces alert messages in real time - hence the feedback is actionable. Clearly combatting one of the disadvantages of TRS. If this is of interest let me know. More info at www dot opiniator dot com.

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