OPINION28 February 2011

Top lines from The Bottom Line

BBC Radio 4’s business talk show The Bottom Line, broadcast on Friday night, featured Ian Cheshire, CEO of DIY retail group Kingfisher, discussing his company’s use of consumer research – beginning with the well-worn complaint of having “far too much data, not enough insight”.

Hold the sighs, though, agency-types. Cheshire wasn’t attempting a clichéd critique of the MR industry’s output, but instead highlighting a situation most retailers find themselves in. For its part, he said, Kingfisher tries to focus on understanding the ‘why’ of consumer behaviour, while tracking sales and keeping a beady eye on the company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS).

“That tends to predict future sales, and if there was one metric all business ought to look at it’s the NPS,” said Cheshire. For those who don’t know, NPS is the number of people who would recommend a company, minus those who wouldn’t. The second part of that equation, “the number of people who hate you”, was described by Cheshire as “a healthy thing to measure”.

Inevitably, the debate moved on to asking which was better, qual or quant. Havas CEO David Jones, who was also on the show, said he wasn’t a fan of qual research any more, particularly focus groups, which he criticised for being far too susceptible to abuse and group-think. Turning both barrels on the respondents, he quipped: “Anybody who would give you two hours of their time just to sit in a room and eat stale sandwiches, you should question their opinion and what it’s worth to begin with.”

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO chief Cilla Snowball, another panellist, spoke up in defence of qual. “I’m a fan,” she said, “because you have behavioural data and rational data in quantitative but you need to [use qual to] get behind the emotions of purchasing decisions.”

Cheshire said Kingfisher finds qual “great at giving us early thoughts”, but the company also takes a more scientific approach to figuring out what people want from its stores and has full-blown “labs” set up in various countries to work out product positionings and optimal range sizes.

The company also seems sold on the usefulness of customer communities, not only as a way for shoppers to swap stories, hints and tips, but as a means for understanding what it is those customers want.

Listen to the show online here.