Social Science as Applied to Commerce

This is another real time conversation I published more than four years ago at Conversation Agent that is still relevant today.

At the time, we didn't have content curation tools, and I worked as both filter and curator, parsing through comments, and adding color and context.

Social science applied to commerce

Some highlights from the conversation:

  • Behavioral research is often limited to hypotheses and personal preferences among employees.
  • When you have experience designers who know how to concept new products quickly, and can marry that with observing what products actual shoppers buy, you're already doing more than the average business.
  • Observation of which products have higher velocity off shelves, for example, is a good tactic. Coupled with product testing, you also need a way to collect and analyze the data, both qualitative and quantitative, and convert it into actionable intelligence.
  • Research projects must be well defined and related to a particular strategy, planned, and executed.
  • Product/Service design (content, packaging, price) is just one piece of the larger behavioral analysis pie. There are environmental studies for online and offline purchasing environments, too.
  • Environment scanning is a constant process.
  • Fads and trends have life cycles of their own that when understood, will qualify the degree of opportunity for each retail channel.
  • The common thread between this chain, Anthropologie & Urban Outfitters, and other successful establishments is that they put their focus on the staff first, not the customer. After all, employees represent the company to the customer every day.

We also talked about bookstore, and both Borders and Barnes & Noble wee mentioned as examples of retail experiences. Much has happened in this environment since we had that conversation.

While after times of uncertainty, 2011 is beginning to look like the year that Barnes & Noble returns to its place as a literary powerhouse, thanks to the Nook. Ironically, it might have been to help out in this case.

Borders didn't fare as well. The retail chain went out of business this summer. Did Borders fail to engage in social science for commerce?

In the words of Robert Passikoff, Borders was egregiously bad at identifying consumer product and lifestyle trends, introducing candles and stationary, CDs and DVDs at a time when consumers were moving in other directions. The chain was also late to the e-book movement.

Borders was late to the Web, and late bringing e-tailing into their marketing mix. They actually contracted out their e-commerce business to, a competitor. How did they do their consumer research? Where did they look for insights?

Did they look?


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