News & people

How to stay ahead of evolving customer preferences

The events of the past year or so have driven perhaps the largest shift in consumer behaviour ever seen in such a short period.

With billions of people around the world stuck at home, many have begun doing a far wider range of activities online – forcing entire industries to adapt almost overnight. Businesses that anticipate shifting customer preferences like these are likely to fare better than those that react late.

This means studying what it is that makes people buy one product or service over another, which could be dictated by anything from budget to personal taste, education or social elements. Within these parameters, preferences such as usability, convenience, communication style and risk will carry different weight for different people.

Monitoring customer preference allows businesses to gauge consumer demand and cater to it effectively. What makes this more difficult is that our preferences are constantly shifting over time, whether due to economic factors, new competition or passing trends.

So how can businesses stay ahead?

How businesses can manage consumer behaviour

Keep an eye on the competition

Monitoring competitors is important for any business, be it a comfortable market leader or a challenger brand. Look for effective ways to analyse what others are offering in comparison to you, whether that means:

  • Pricing
  • Value propositions, such as sustainability
  • Service add-ons, like free delivery

Constantly reviewing what’s happening in the wider market and how that’s impacting consumer behaviour will help your business replicate and build on the success of others.

Ask customers for feedback

Often the best way to find out what your customers want is to go directly to them. Encourage reviews and create surveys that ask people what they’d like to see more or less of from your brand. Repeating this process will help to track any shifts or trends.

A more indirect way to gather feedback is to strategically test messaging and design by showing different versions to separate groups, whether that’s online or instore. Compare how each option performs and implement the most successful!

researching consumer preferencesCall in the experts

When you’re so caught up in your own business, sometimes it can help to get an outside perspective. Consider hiring market consultants to conduct an independent analysis of both the market and where your business sits within it.

Collecting this level of data will give you the confidence you need to make important decisions, whether in the retail industry or elsewhere.

Think About Personal Data

When it comes to staying at the top and beating the competition, you have to keep in mind that nowadays, it’s not just personal data, but it’s customer data, too! That means not just selling products but also handling customer data in a way that respects their rights and privacy.

A lot of retail (big and small) are selling customer data, and it’s going as far as personal data, too. But of course, a lot of customers, understandably, dislike this and find it uncomfortable. There’s the Right to be Forgotten, and as a business, you need to respect this (or else there are so many consequences to pay); if they want their personal data removed from your system, you better do it. It’s about building trust but also about staying compliant.

Strive to innovate

Above all, avoid complacency. What’s working now might do so less effectively in 12 months’ time, while an innovator could easily come along and disrupt the entire industry. Uber is one prominent example.

So armed with knowledge of competitor activity and your customer preferences, what can you do to lead the way? By always keeping your ear to the ground, you’ll be in a great position to keep winning and retaining customers long into the future.