Is Market Research Telling Tesco to Shop Around for New Ideas?

Tesco’s announcement this week that it plans to spend £1 billion on ‘reinventing’ its out of town stores demonstrates a willingness to move with the times.  It’s taken long enough: the supermarket chain that seemed as though it was on an unending ascent to ever greater heights of retail domination posted its first dip in profits for 20 years in April and the announcement of a big investment in major changes to its store concepts is a sharp response to that unpalatable news. Some of the plans are fairly ground breaking – alongside the obvious coffee shops and restaurant chains (yawn), Tesco plans to create leisure spaces for fitness and baby classes, attracting people into the stores for reasons other than grocery shopping, while clearly planning to encourage them to spend some of their hard-earned cash at the same time.

The whole plan, I would hazard a guess, is based on a significant market research exercise. Tesco has not just taken a long hard look at what has changed in the sector to discourage people from shopping at the out of town Meccas that were once every family’s Saturday trip out, they have also asked people what kind of facilities they want – and would be prepared to travel that little bit further for.

Market research is an unsung hero of the marketing world, often considered to be all data and number crunching without any of the creative pizazz attributed to advertising, design and PR. Not so.  While it does require a methodical approach to analysing the responses in order to provide credible, useful and reliable results, it also takes a creative approach to asking the right questions of the right people and ensuring that the answers they produce are specific and quantifiable in order to offer definitive signposts towards the best way forward.

There can also be a tendency to assume that market research won’t tell you anything you don’t already know; a feeling that resorting to research is tantamount to a failure to understand your sector or your customers.  Not so again. It simply provides more detailed answers that will confirm, refute or explain what you think you know.

To me, there can be no effective marketing without strategy, and you cannot begin to develop a strategy without understanding the opportunities and obstacles that lie ahead. The trick is to commission the research ahead of the game, not wait, as Tesco has, until the warning signals tell you that something needs to change.