A new report suggests that not all senior staff in the retail sector have a firm grasp on what makes modern consumers “tick”.

For ambitious companies engaged in retail executive search projects, this could mean an increased likelihood of new managers with an insufficient grasp of the challenges ahead.

The research project, from a US-based retail tech firm, cast doubt on how clued up senior team members are on what constitutes a positive customer experience. First Insight concluded that there was a marked differential in understanding when it comes to consumer shopping habits and the ways to influence purchases.

The company surveyed both consumers and retailers, then compared the results. For example, executives ranked the value of “convenience” much higher than shoppers did.

The emphasis consumers placed on promotions, in-store discounts and coupons within physical retail outlets, was significantly disproportionate to the ranking applied by senior staff.

The dissimilar perceptions of pricing trends were also highly significant, with high numbers of managers unaware of consumer concern about increases in store.

In fact, the only measure that both retail executives and consumers agreed on, was the fact that quality is the most important factor in the buying decision.

Season, sales and discounting

This latest report supported the findings of another survey, which also concluded that retail executives are prone to overlooking the highly diverse range of factors driving buying decisions.

According to the report by consumer insight company Kantar Worldpanel, retailers are getting “left behind” as a result of insufficient understanding of how fluid the buying cycle is. There is a need to balance rigid seasonal product campaigns, periodical sales and discounts, with the constant discounting that can undermine consumer confidence.

Holding on to traditional values

Unfortunately, there are ample case studies of companies falling into the trap of underestimating consumer perception. Including how important continuity is – as well as modernisation.

For example, in 2017 confectionery firm Toblerone unleashed damaging UK consumer ridicule and criticism, when it launched a smaller core product with a new design. This led to U-turn in 2018, when the company’s signature chocolate bar was relaunched with its original packaging, price and weight!

How many of 2018’s retail demises were the result of a poor grasp of what drives sales?

Incidentally, the Toblerone example could also be a reflection of the fact that some executives are still under appreciating the power consumers have to protest and unite via social media.

In the retail sector, harnessing technology to business growth – including merging clicks and bricks in some cases – is the highest priority. However, any changes, new products and ventures still need to take into account that consumers will stick firmly to some traditional values and perceptions!

Creative executives, ready to learn

Retail executive recruitment needs to locate senior staff with a strong grasp of the consumer mindset. But also, people with the creativity and agility to keep pace with diverse – and ever-evolving – consumer trends.

It could well be that the best candidates are not the ones who appear to “know it all”. Instead, the most prized recruits could be people willing to constantly listen, learn and respond to what your consumers want and need.

For information on how we can help narrow the field, call us.