3 ways consumer insights can combat Big Data

by: Andrew Turner

While many of us still are wrapping our head around the possibilities of Big Data in our business, the major retailers are using its full potential to shape categories, ranges and shopper behaviour, leaving many suppliers feeling powerless over the fate of their brands and products.

Indeed, the sheer scale and volume of transactional data at the fingertips of chains such as Woolworths and Coles can feel insurmountable to external researchers.

But all is not lost. Consumer insights retain a powerful role in providing important human insights to business and trade.

What’s needed is a reshaping of the conversation and sharp focus from manufacturers on the supply chain elements they can control.


The highs and lows of Big Data.

There’s no denying Big Data has empowered the buying decisions of Big Retail. In the hands of retailers, Big Data has reduced category management to the manipulation of an immense and bewildering set of data points that smaller-scale consumer insights teams simply cannot compete against.

From a retailer's perspective, understanding the past behaviour of consumers can often help predict future buying behaviour; as a derived measure of what’s going on the market, its value lies in providing the ‘what’ in terms of segmented shopper purchases.

However, it’s far less useful in understanding the ‘why’.

While Big Data can help surface repeat behaviour, it’s less helpful in identifying the root cause. The very transactional nature of the information prohibits collection of deeper insights traditionally gleaned through intelligent market research: is the repeat behaviour triggered by taste, design or functionality? What are the moments outside the store footprint that drive purchase decisions in store?

shoppers-consumer-insightsHow consumer insights can combat Big Data.

Pulling apart the ‘why’ is key for consumer insights teams to defend existing trusted and loved products. Here are three ways that suppliers can prove their value and reshape the Big Data conversation:

  1. Demonstrate value. Sensory research can help create and innovate products that delight consumers with experiences that Big Data can’t predict. Use these insights to drive your product innovation and add value.
  2. Promote intangible performance. Defend existing brands and products by proving that from a sensory perspective they live up to expectations and need to remain on shelf. Sensory research, home usage testing and benchmarking are critical tools for suppliers to uphold arguments such as “are we as good - or better - than private label?”.
  3. Leverage the bundle evaluation. Consider the message, the packaging and the product – and ensure the promise made around those is aligned to the consumer’s sensory experience.


Big Data and consumer insights: better together.

The rising tide of detailed data that is shaping retail choices can be viewed positively; never before have we had such depth or breadth of quantitative insights into shopper actions.

However, Big Data’s true value can only be realised when considered in conjunction with the human behaviours that compel shopper decisions.

And that, friends, only comes with consumer and sensory insights from suppliers. 

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about the author

Andrew Turner

As PLAY’s Associate Director, nothing pleases Andrew more than getting to the “Why” of people’s claimed behaviour. With a background in Social Psychology and a 16-year research career spanning FMCG, services and social territories, his key belief in any project is to "tell you what you need to know, not just what you want to hear". Aside from being our sensory expert, Andrew is an avid foodie and loves to wet a line at the nearest stretch of water. He’s also a musician, having once been the lead singer in a metal band.

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