Sunday, May 4, 2008

Virtual Ethnography: A Shopper and Blogger Named Barb Writes About Her Shopping Behavior; We Observe as the Virtual Ethnographer

Barb, who's a shopper extraordinaire, blogger and business services specialist who lives in Whittier in Southern California, writes in her blog today about her Sunday, which she calls a "Target Day," as in a day to shop at Target.

She follows that up by saying she will be shopping at her local branch of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market when finished at the Target store.

Barb says in her blog post about her shopping Sunday that she enjoys grocery shopping at the Fresh & Easy grocery market. She adds she buys lots of veggies at the Fresh & Easy grocery store.

Virtual ethnography

Shopper and blogger Barb has four pictures in her blog post which to us offer an interesting single source (Barb) applied virtual ethnographical look at how she shops Target and Fresh & Easy.

The blog post and pictures also offer some insight in general into Fresh & Easy shoppers, as well as offering some applied action steps Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market could take to nurture shoppers such as Barb. After all, good applied anthropologists should always offer suggestions for going forward as part of an ethnographic examination.

The first two pictures (the first one posted above with the groceries still in bags, the second one below with Barb's Fresh & Easy purchases laid out on her kitchen table) show all of the food and grocery products she bought today at her local Fresh & Easy grocery store.

The next two pictures, posted below one after the other, are of Barb's purchases at a Target store today. The first picture below is of her Target purchases still in the bags.

The next picture below is of Barb's purchases today from Target, with the products taken out of the bags and arranged on her kitchen table.

Virtual ethnographic analysis

First off, it looks to this observer like Barb purchased about the same quantity of products at Fresh & Easy and Target. When viewed both in the plastic shopping bags and laid out on the table, the purchase quantities look about equal. Obviously we have no idea how close in total purchase price they are.

This means she is both a primary and secondary Fresh & Easy and Target shopper. A double venue shopper or equal opportunity customer if you will.

Barb didn't purchase all of her grocery products at Fresh & Easy however. In the picture of the target purchases laid out on her kitchen table, you can see a quart of mayonnaise, a couple jars of what looks like relish and sauce, two bags and a box of snacks, a package of napkins, and some cleaning products, in terms of those items we would categorize as grocery products.

Additionally, in picture two of the Fresh & Easy purchases laid out on the table, there aren't any non-foods items except for what looks like two pie tins or pans.

The conclusion we draw from this phenomenon is that if Fresh & Easy could get the Barb's of the world to purchase a few more non-foods items, such as cleaning products and the like, at Fresh & Easy stores, they could increase their overall store ring or market basket nicely.

One way to do that might be to create some high-value coupons strictly for non-foods items such as cleaning products, paper towels, bathroom tissues, napkins and the like. These could be 40- 50% off coupons for the respective items which would generate trial because of their value.

Another way Fresh & Easy stores could increase sales in these categories to the Barb's of the marketplace is to do some better impulse merchandising of the non-foods' items in the stores, in our analysis. More food and non-food cross merchandising for example. More placement of higher-ring non-foods' items at the point-of-purchase would also work to increase sales in the categories mentioned above.

We are well aware the primary merchandising focus of Tesco with Fresh & Easy is food. However, selling more grocery and non-foods items will not only increase the stores' average ring, it also will generally help increase gross margin.

Aldi USA has figured this out well in the U.S., as we described in this piece about the small-format, no frills discount grocer we published earlier today.

One of the primary reasons Aldi USA promotes and sells an eclectic variety of non-foods and various consumer products in its stores is because such items help increase the total dollar average ring per order. They also bring new shoppers into the stores, as well as helping to convert secondary and tertiary shoppers into primary ones.

Barb's Target and Fresh & Easy shopping trips and purchases today also point to an interesting phenomenon: she is comfortable shopping for food at a small-format, limited assortment grocery store but also still loves to shop at a huge mass merchandise store like Target which offers tens of thousands of items in nearly every category.

Although as good applied anthropologists, we will caution ourselves from overgeneralizing from the specific (Barb) to the general (all consumers), this is still good news for Fresh & Easy. It demonstrates (again we aren't making a sweeping generalization) that shopping in two stores of radically different sizes and formats like Barb does isn't a foreign concept like some analysts suggest.

In fact, its our analysis that all things being equal, many U.S. customers like the idea of being able to shop at a smaller, neighborhood grocery store, while also shopping at least at least one or two mega-stores such as Target, Wal-mart or Costco.

Lastly, that Barb is a Target and Fresh & Easy lover offers an interesting observation on Fresh & Easy's positioning. Tesco has primarily positioned the small-format, combination basic grocery and fresh foods grocery stores more like a mini-Wal-Mart or Mini-Costco than the more upscale Target.

Perhaps the grocery chain needs to position and market more to the Target demographic and customer, than to the discount grocery store consumer. Again, we aren't overly generalizing, but Barb is a great subject, as she expresses herself very well in her blog post.

[We would be remiss if we didn't compliment Barb on her presentation skills in how she laid out the products from Target and Fresh & Easy on her kitchen table. She could have a very successful career in merchandising and product presentation based on the job she did in the pictures posted above and on her blog.]

Nurturing Barb, and the Barb's of the Fresh & Easy marketplace

Barb is a consumer and shopper Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market would love to clone. (Target as well.) Not only does she regularly shop the grocery stores, and likes doing so, she even writes about it in her blog (along with pictures) in a positive manner.

Were we running Fresh & Easy, we would have a key executive contact Barb, let her know we read her blog post, and ask if she would meet us at the Whittier Fresh & Easy for lunch.

If she excepted, we would buy her lunch nearby (too bad they don't have Fresh & Easy Cafes in those stores), talk to her a bit, and when finished with lunch give her the following:

Three or four of Fresh & Easy's $5 off coupons good on any grocery order of $20.00 or more; a nice gift package of fresh & easy store brand products, including some cleaning products, as a thank you; a couple Fresh & Easy canvas tote bags, and three or four more of the cheaper Fresh & Easy synthetic bags for life. (We did notice all the single-use plastic carrier bags in Barb's pictures.)

We also would ask Barb if a member of the Fresh & Easy marketing or research team could hang out with her one day soon on her shopping trip to first Target and then to the Fresh & Easy, along with spending a little time with her when she brings the grocery products home.

We would use this time with Barb to observe her shopping, staying out of her way like a good participant-observer should, talk to her, asking some questions, and then following-up with her while we help her put away her groceries at home. Maybe spend about 3 hours with her that day.

Some may laugh when they read this. However, it's invaluable. Just ask Proctor & Gamble, which has made such applied anthropologically-oriented ethnographic research a central part of its marketing research program.

P&G has employees go shopping with customers, spend time with them in their laundry rooms washing clothes, and even spending an entire day and overnight with a family at their house observing their consumer behavior vis-a-vis the numerous categories and products P&G for consumers.

[If you want to learn more about the applied consumer-centric anthropological and ethnographic research P&G is doing, the company's CEO A.J. Laffey has a new book out called "Game Changer." The focus of the book is on driving revenue and profit through innovation. In the book Laffey talks about the various forms of what we call consumer-centric applied anthropology and ethnography which P&G is using, and how it has and is paying off for the company.]

The more Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market can learn about the Barb's of the marketplace--what they like, why they like the stores, and what could be better--the better they can customize their offering and target consumers, which the retailer needs to do a better job of.

We will be interested as applied anthropologists to see if Fresh & Easy does a little nurturing of Barb, both for its benefit and of course for hers too.

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