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Mar 3, 2020

WWD: Making Human Connections in a Data-Driven World

Barbara Rice, global director of Market Research at TechStyle Fashion Group, discusses how the firm puts a “face” to a “number”

by Barbara Rice | Mar 3rd, 2020

The introduction of big data and AI to digital marketing has been nothing short of an industry transformation. The ability to quickly analyze vast amounts of information has transformed how, when and where companies interact with customers. For the industry, the benefits appear endless — the power to streamline and optimize campaigns, target prime audiences and access information that was previously inaccessible.

Over time, advancements in AI have yielded a multitude of incredible new insights on consumer behavior that have enabled companies to take their marketing strategies to the next level.

Big data has fallen short of presenting the full picture. Results can be misleading, and an imperfect analysis can add further complications. In today’s environment, there’s no room for missteps. As consumer expectations continue to soar, merely collecting and analyzing data isn’t enough for a company to maintain a competitive edge. Our customers are more than just numbers, establishing meaningful connection with them can’t come from data alone. Supplementing data with qualitative research provides a sharper focus on consumer needs and wants by delivering critical insights and learnings that companies can’t get from data. How can companies put a face to a number?

Exploring the Space Between What People Say and What They Do

It’s no surprise that a consumer’s intentions often don’t play out as expected. They might sign up to receive a discount code and then never redeem it, add items to their online shopping cart but never check out or overestimate the amount they’d be willing to spend on an item and change their mind. It is necessary to understand how consumers think they behave and then observe how that supports or contradicts with how they actually behave. By digging into the gap between expectation and reality, companies can better understand customer behavior.

Take, for example, e-mail engagement. In a recent survey of its members, ShoeDazzle found that 75 percent of customers claimed to read company e-mails several times a week. Data showed that engagement with e-mail communication was down year-over-year. We leveraged in-person qualitative research to address this problem through TechStyle’s “Meet the Member” program. This program was created across all TechStyle brands as a means to receive feedback directly from our members on topics that inform key strategic initiatives. The “Meet the Member” events are also a great way for employees across the organization to hear directly from a customer, which can be much more compelling than a data point or even a summary from our research teams.

After taking the time during these member events to evaluate and understand what type of content our customers actually find the most compelling, our team was able to make some significant improvements, including more personalized subject lines and customizing which products are promoted within. These changes allowed for clearer communications with customers and were more effective at holding their attention, which resulted in improvements in e-mail engagement and conversion.

Explaining the ‘Why’ of Consumer Behavior

It’s a common misconception among non-researchers that all user-experience (UX) research is quantitative and that insights can be broadly applied to the general population. In reality, we find that the most meaningful UX research is qualitative and addresses the “why” instead of the “what” in consumer behavior. That’s not to say that observing how a customer interacts with a company web site (what they click on, how long they spend on a page, or how often they complete a purchase, for example) doesn’t provide vital information.

By leveraging qualitative results and discovering why customers behave a certain way, companies will be better equipped to analyze quantitative data and take action to solve issues.

The team at JustFab realized the benefits of qualitative UX research when a recent update to improve the introductory style quiz failed a round of quantitative A/B testing. The UX team was perplexed by the results, given the renewed, modern design and improved user interface compared to the original version. While the numbers clearly showed that there was some misstep in the redesign, the data didn’t reveal exactly why the updated quiz failed. To gain perspective, the UX team relied on UserTesting, a human insights platform, to reveal why customers preferred the original format. After analyzing the qualitative information, the UX team was able to pinpoint the underlying issue, understand the customers’ perspective and design a new solution that would better suit their needs and expectations.

Creating Personalized Experiences for Customers

No two customers are the same, but companies still must attempt to create experiences that satisfy the diverse needs and expectations across all customer types. From potential customers to VIPs, every group has very distinct needs and behaviors when they visit a company’s site. Even how they arrive to the site tends to vary widely, whether it’s through a social media ad or personalized e-mail. In order to understand the behavior of its broadest groups of customers — VIP members, those in TechStyle Fashion Group brands (JustFab, ShoeDazzle, FabKids, Fabletics, Savage x Fenty) loyalty program, and Leads (non-members) – the company baselined the shopping experience for both sets of customers in order to more easily identify pain points and typical behaviors.

Ad hoc research has proven to be an invaluable resource when determining how both groups react to site improvements and other modifications. In a recent case, focused research revealed the differences in the way VIPs and Leads shop online. Many VIPs have shopped with TechStyle Fashion Group and its brands for more than two years, and most of them visit the site at least monthly to shop the new products. Research showed that these customers will look at every single page and view every item of a new launch without using filters for size, style, color, activity or any other category.

One the other hand, Leads are much more focused in their approach. They are more likely to shop with something specific already in mind — whether it’s an upcoming event, a specific trend they want to buy into, or a new style of shoe — and are more likely to apply filters based on these attributes. This research has allowed us to improve the filtering options offered to both current and new customers; making shopping easy for those who want to use it, but not overly obtrusive for those who would rather not.

When it comes down to it, the secret to outstanding user experiences lies in going beyond the numbers to leverage qualitative research and data. Customer empathy can have a major impact on a company’s bottom line, and companies can’t rely on numbers alone. A clearer understanding of why customers behave a certain way and how they expect certain processes to run allows companies to examine the larger picture, ensure brands stay relevant, and deliver the best products and experiences to consumers on every occasion.

Barbara Rice is the global director of market research at TechStyle Fashion Group, which owns Savage x Fenty, Fabletics, FabKids, JustFab and ShoeDazzle.

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