Here, at Eolas International, we are seeing a move away from expert measurement of quality – no longer is it solely measured in labs or by a team of experts but by consumers during in the moment usage occasions. Increasingly we are working on projects with our clients to understand what quality means to consumers, and we are finding more and more that:
“Consumers are leading the quality agenda”
Let’s consider the example of TripAdvisor. Only 15 years ago, quality and standards in the hotel industry were assessed by experts and inspectors. Today, millions of people regularly add their opinion and experience to the site each month without financial incentive or reward. In the FMCG industry, consumers are also creating their own views and stories around product experience and quality, and sharing these has never been easier. The evolution of app based technology has been the greatest enabler for this movement.
At the same time, the large increase in the number of players and local brands available to the consumer with varying levels of quality and price tiers, has resulted in a savvier consumer eager to research and willing to feedback. Marketing have been using technology to engage with consumers for some time. Traditionally however, product quality and experience has not been a key theme in this interaction. But that is not to say that consumers haven’t been talking about quality or experience – only that we may not be listening as actively as we could.
Let’s consider product quality in the marketplace.
From our in store audits of over one million product samples across key FMCG categories, we see that 15% of the products that the global consumer encounters have quality issues, whether on-pack or in-use. Whether the consumer actually perceives the issue is another question – sometimes what we might consider a quality defect may be of no concern to the consumer and vice versa.
Of course, this is a global figure. In some regions, particularly those with higher share of traditional trade, the figure can be above 30%, whilst in others it can be as low as 5%. Also, some pack types may be more prone to issues than others.
But consider this – in the fastest growing retail channel globally – e-commerce – we have found that number is consistently higher. You may say of course! – it is part and parcel of the structure of that channel. But consider it from the consumer’s experience – they invested time searching for and choosing the product online amongst the raft of products available, then ordered online, paying upfront in the trust the product would be fine. After waiting a day or two for item to be delivered, it arrived in a ripped box or crushed package. It may not be an issue large enough to invest time in getting a monetary refund, but it will be remembered and it might influence choice of product next time – and this is what is dangerous.
One of the main forms of consumer engagement at present are customer care lines. Customer care lines are great, they offer you the chance to engage directly with your consumer, hearing about their experiences (good and bad!) and reassure them on a personalised basis that their problems will be addressed. But there are a few considerations associated with this channel. Firstly less than 4% of unhappy customers will take the time to call or interact with you directly about their issues (they might talk to someone else but chances are it won’t be you).
Care lines won’t necessarily pick up passive attitudes – for example, you might be mildly fed up with a minor dent in your pack but do you really care enough to call and wait on a customer care line?
Also, sometimes it might be too late for remedial action – they’ve already purchased (or not purchased) the item, the decision has been made. The bigger issue is that we are now serving the consumer in the connected world and living in the time of “the call out culture”.
Don’t believe that the connected consumer is some millennial living in a city in the US or Europe. There are more smartphone users in India than the US, Canada and UK combined. According to a recent Forbes article, 75% of Chinese consumers post online about their purchasing experiences at least once a month.
The key factor here is “Connected” – one person making a comment or observation about their product experience has the potential to amplify to thousands in minutes. How this travels, and other people’s response are a risk to your brand equity.
So, what do you get when you actively listen to consumers in the quality arena?
At Eolas, we research and measure product quality in every sense, including in labs and auditing the market. Whilst consumer feedback will not replace the need for these methodologies, we do believe that listening to your consumer’s views on product quality and experience is important and valuable in order to understand what matters for them.
Often, product testing with consumers happens in a lab, focus group or situations that mean very little to them – our challenge as an industry is to measure quality when it matters to them and in the most natural setting.
Consumer journeys differ from person to person and from channel to channel, as do expectations associated. But there are key “interaction points” which each play a role in the consumer’s assessment of product quality, and importantly, whether they decide to purchase an item now, and indeed repurchase in the future.
Take, for example, the in-store retail journey.
A consumer goes in to choose the brand or product that they want to purchase, they select the item from the facings on shelf and then take it home or to consume on the go.
Whilst a little more complex, one can apply the same logic to e-commerce: I search for the product I want and select, I make an order and pay for the product. In time, that product is delivered in some way and I consume much in the same way as if it was purchased in a store. Different journeys with different expectations, but the same final destination which is usage.
In terms of on pack quality, for some clients we ask consumers to record details of what they find and we then compare this against audited measurements by our researchers. This allows us to continuously build a data set focussed on the consumer view and sensitivity to on pack quality issues.
The final moment of truth for product quality is the in use experience. What delights and frustrates the consumer in terms of functional and consumption experience with the product. This can provide some interesting insights. Take an example from Ireland. The consumer, being environmentally conscious, actively chose a yogurt pot that didn’t have a plastic lid, hoping to save waste. However, that in-store choice directly impacted on her in use experience as she was very concerned of the risk of contamination in her fridge. As we actively look for new sustainability measures and ways of reducing our environmental footprint, maybe that is something we can have in mind – how can we use this as an opportunity to make the consumer experience even better and delight them.
So how have we been able to get so close to the consumer? The key enabler is the smart phone. Web on the go, apps, cameras and a wealth of other tools are becoming the Swiss Army knife for the consumer researcher. Engagement is becoming quicker and cheaper, and most importantly, more natural than ever before.
One thing is certain: as technology evolves, consumer engagement will change. Today, Chat Bot technology can be seen as the best in class method of consumer engagement – communicating in a conversational manner elicits more natural consumer feedback and early results in the industry suggest consumers provide 5x more qualitative feedback.
But how consumers interact through technology is ever evolving. In ten years’ time, this will change again – for example, companies like Ericsson predict a future away from the screen with voice recognition and interaction fuelling mobile engagement. Anyone working with consumers’ needs to adapt to this or we are in danger of becoming irrelevant to them.
So whilst listening to consumers on the product quality they experience may be a developing area, as technology evolves, more consumers connect and markets diversify bringing more product experiences to people, the opportunity for engagement will continue to grow. The connected world is not going away.