When Science Collides With Retail: Giving the Public What They Want
The fashion times are a-changin’. New products have an estimated failure rate of 50 percent, costing over $400 billion each year collecting dust on store shelves. With that kind of risk involved, a systematic assessment of consumer preferences should be par for the course. However, retailers are constantly struggling to determine what styles consumers are going to buy.
Enter the fashion critics and gurus. With their connection to popular publications, these individuals have long held sway over the public’s attraction to and demand for fashion and style. Retailers have also been at their mercy, at least when it comes to predicting what consumers will really buy. Times have changed, however. Consumers have more say and power than ever before. Social media now serves as a platform for loud and opinionated consumer voices. Retailers must not only listen, but respond as well. Otherwise, they’ll just hear the sound of moths shuffling in clothing racks, not potential customers.
How to Listen
Decades ago, if a retailer wanted to know more about consumer preferences, it would visit stores and talk to customers, conduct in-store testing, and possibly run focus groups. Now, with hundreds of stores and styles that change every month, these tactics are no longer practical — nor are they reliably predictive of what will sell. They've largely been replaced by a new set of ways for consumers to give their input and for retailers to listen and learn.
Today, one of the most powerful methods of listening to gain insight into expected consumer buying behavior is through crowdsourced data. This can take place in a variety of ways. One approach is to look at conversations users are already having on various social channels such as Twitter or Facebook. Social data is a great repository of consumer sentiment; however, the problem lies in the fact that this information can be difficult to quantify in terms of tone, value and influence — not to mention it’s quite sizable. The answer is to create a context for consumers to provide pointed feedback that can easily be structured and translated into real strategies regarding timing, pricing and offerings.
Greg has a 25-year history in the retail industry with a career spanning merchandising, sales and management. But while at one of the world’s leading supply chain technology firms, he saw a need for retailers and brands to re-engage with consumers to determine which products would be top sellers well before costly investments are made to bring them to market. In 2007, Greg Petro founded First Insight Inc., a technology company that delivers what is now the world’s leading predictive analytics platform for consumer-testing new products. Through engaging consumers online and mining social data, the First Insight platform empowers retailers and brands to introduce the right products at the right price, and target them to the right customers. Today, he serves as its Chief Executive Officer and President. Greg is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as a frequent speaker at the graduate business schools of Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh. Greg also speaks and at a number of industry conferences, where he educates his listeners on how retailers can use technology to identify and deliver what their customers really want. Mr. Petro holds both MBA and Bachelor’s Degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.