Understanding Your Customer: Using Market Research to Ensure and Shape your Future

By: Madeleine Lutts, Maine SBDC Intern

Since everyday life and the general business landscape have changed dramatically for almost all of us this year, most consumers are acting and behaving differently in at least one way. If you think about your shopping habits, and whether or not your shopping experiences have changed in the recent past, there’s a good chance you’ve been adapting to regulations and accessibility. 

This is an extremely important time to remain constantly aware of how the customers within your target market are behaving. Whether they are loyal, returning customers, or people who are shopping at your competitors, understanding where their behavior is coming from is essential to you being able to target them and tailor your retail channels, products, and services accordingly.

Here are some ways to stay in tune with your customer and work to understand their behavior: 

Revisit Your Target Customer

When you started planning your business, you spent time thinking about who your target customer is. This means the person (or type of person) who is going to be able and willing to purchase your products. In trying to understand your target customer, you should revisit this person and envision an actual avatar who represents your ideal customer. You should revisit who your target customer is by outlining how this person acts, reacts, thinks, and feels. As well as their wants, their needs, and pain points. You can get as specific as determining their age, location, income range, and other demographic info. 

After you’ve done this, you can now think about this person and how their life has changed since the start of COVID-19. Ask yourself how you think this person has reacted to the pandemic and what kind of impact the changes in society have had on them. Are they acting, thinking, or feeling differently than they were last year? Are their needs or wants apt to change? Or has the pandemic presented them with new pain points that they were not experiencing before? Thinking about your target customer’s new pain points and how their habits have changed will help you determine what changes you can make to meet their current needs and ease any new pains. 

Changes in Consumer Behavior 

It’s clear that most consumers’ behavior has changed in the wake of the pandemic, especially when it comes to shopping. Since most of us have spent more time inside, this has meant that some people who are able to, spend more time on the internet. And many people who have the means to buy more online as opposed to in person. Take the time to determine what websites, social media platforms, or online activities your target customer is most drawn towards when they spend time online for leisure. Being able to pinpoint your customer’s online activity will help with your social media strategy. One great way to gather information about your customer’s behavior is to administer a survey or poll either by social media or email. You can incentivize people to fill out your poll by offering a raffle entry for a giveaway or a small discount.

There is a wealth of online resources where you can compile recent data about your target market and compare changes among demographics, including the Portland Public Library’s online databases. An SBDC advisor can also guide you through the market research process. 

Customer Expectations 

Just as their priorities have changed, your customers’ expectations of your business may have changed. They expect you to communicate, to post updates, and to be transparent. But are they looking for increased access to products? Are they looking for multiple ways to purchase a product? Or would they appreciate a payment plan? Talk to your customers to find out what makes their life simpler, and how you can improve their experience interacting with your business. The best way to do this is by asking for feedback on a short form in an email after a customer makes an online purchase.