Understanding What Your Customers Want


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If you are a regular shopper for beauty products at Target, you may have, in recent years, come across one of their many experts who you can talk to for personalized advice before you actually go ahead and buy. Such beauty concierge services are today present in more than 400 Target stores across the United States and is no small investment from the company. According to Target, this service “adds comprehensive service and education” that many of their guests “want and expect” while shopping beauty.

If you are a retailer like Target, how do you know what your customers want? Where do you start? The answer lies in experimentation and benchmarking.

Test Labs

Retailers like Target and Walmart have what are known as ‘test labs’. These are essentially retail stores that the marketers use to conduct experiments to study specific customer behavior patterns. In the case of Target, it is a store at the Quarry in the northeast part of Minneapolis where the company is headquartered in. This is unlike any other Target store and the company conducts many little experiments here that help them identify changes in consumer patterns. Such experiments help the retailer answer questions like finding out the ‘sweet spot’ for the number of mannequins that the apparel section must have, or knowing whether a beauty concierge or baby adviser help the company sell more, and knowing if replacing price scanners with iPads that can help the shopper pull up more information about the products will help the retailer sell more.

The process of experimentation begins at the headquarters where marketers identify areas where their retail stores could perform better. This is done either through comparison against publicly available information from competitors, or through customer surveys and focus groups where targeted prospects are asked questions about factors that bother them while shopping. The key is not in identifying factors that contribute to sales, but rather in finding those that hinder them. So knowing that a customer held off from purchasing a piece of cloth because they were not able to visualize how it would look on them, or not buying a smartphone because they could not test how it feels could give marketers a clue on what to experiment in their test labs.

Online Tests

As customers move away from shopping at physical stores to buying products online, experimentation and benchmarking have only gotten more accurate and methodical. Multivariate testing could today be conducted on every minor aspect of a sales page. This includes everything from identifying the ideal number of input fields in a sign up form, to the effect a microcopy fine print has on conversion rate. It also helps with performing cost benefit analysis of investments in tools like CDN or code compressing software.

The Experimentation Process

In effect, understanding what your customer wants is a three step process.

Talk to your customer – Talk to your customers to know why they did not buy something they wanted to buy. For online purchases, identify customers who bounce and find out what caused them to exit the buying process.

Formulate the right experiments – The next step is in identifying a solution to the customer’s problem. To do this, formulate the right experiments. Does having a microcopy text that assures customers that their contact details would not be shared with third parties reassure them better? Would using a code compressor and CDN to speed up your website remove the frustrating elements in your website? Formulating the right experiments is crucial to knowing your customers.

Benchmark – Once you have conducted the right experiments, it is time to benchmark the results from this study with data already on hand to compare the results. If the ROI from investing in a CDN is higher than what you would have earned otherwise, then it makes economic sense to deploy a CDN for your website. If decreasing the number of mannequins in your store declutters the buying experience and helps customers choose better, then perhaps that is the right way to go.

Customers do not always have the right answers to what they want. But by conducting experiments to understand their behavior and knowing what moves the needle, it is possible to get deeper into the buyers’ psyche and identify the factors that increase the revenues for your business.


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