The retail environment is more complex than ever, with more brands, more choices in every product category, and more ways of packaging products. On one hand, that’s a net positive for product developers who want to innovate at every stage of the game. On the other hand, it means it takes a lot of creativity to stand out and it’s much more likely that new products will be lost in the fray.
While focus groups and research into consumer preferences by the numbers can be a big asset when taking products from concept to launch, you can actually learn a lot learn about new product development by doing something as simple as walking the aisles at Best Buy and – this is the challenging part – thinking like a consumer. Spending time in a giant electronics retailer can shed light on everything from packaging and price point, but you’re not there to judge the competition so much as you’re there to look at products at the store level, the way consumers do.
When you do that, here are just some of the things you might see:
The Fault in Your Vantage Point
Those of us in new product development are prone to thinking about products from the inside out when the consumers we want to attract encounter our products from the outside in. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to bring a perfect product to market it’s helpful to understand that shoppers typically don’t have the option to test before they buy.
Strolling through Best Buy, you’ll be reminded that consumers are presented with a cluttered display of options, and packaging and shelf presence (not the product itself) are frequently what drives their choices. Packaging that fails to attract attention and to differentiate itself will stay on the shelves – which is ironic considering that for many of us, it’s a relative afterthought in the development process. Best Buy’s crowded displays may be all it takes to convince you that for consumers, the package is essentially the product.
New Opportunities for Innovation
Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean invention. There are a near infinite number of variations of the basic wheel and some are clearly better than others but they all come from the same place. Walking through Best Buy, you’ll see scores of products that are good but not great alongside a handful of established products that are known winners. What can you learn from each when you don the guise of a shopper?
Pretending you know nothing about the products that have proven themselves in the marketplace, what would you say is attractive about them? And looking similarly at the lesser known or lower quality offerings on Best Buy’s shelves, what do you see (as a consumer) that immediately turns you off or leads you to assume that the product won’t meet your needs? From there, consider this: Can existing products be improved by your product?
How the Competition Approaches Packaging
Browsing Best Buy gives you a chance to see how products like yours already on the market are packaged and displayed. While you may be tempted to start analyzing the packaging – whether it’s overall good or bad and what could be improved – your task here isn’t to assess the marketability of a competitor’s packaging but rather to imagine your product in its own packaging within the competitive context. Your product will be sharing the shelf with the competition and that fact should be a part of the design process as you move toward launch. As it stands now, will your packaging design blend in or stand out?
Your product will be sharing the shelf with the competition and that fact should be a part of the design process as you move toward launch. As it stands now, will your packaging design blend in or stand out? Can the customer get a good feel for your product without removing it from the package? And finally, consider the pitfalls of over-packaging. The average consumer is now more concerned about the environmental friendliness of packaging, and is wary of or even put off by excessive and non-recyclable packaging.
Consumer Sentiment, Real and Imagined
At some point in your product development timeline you made assumptions about how much consumers would be willing to pay for your product. This is so obviously different from the actual cost of your product but many teams treat it as the same thing. A trip to Best Buy is an opportunity to see how much consumers are really willing to spend on products like yours and how the competition is pricing similar products, as well as products that meet the same need but are of higher or lower quality.
This is also a good opportunity to consider your product’s “positioning” in the market. How is your product obviously different from what’s already on offer, and is this point of difference clearly communicated to consumers by your product? For many FMCG consumers, your packaging is their first impression of your product, so it should reflect your company’s values, and be consistent with the brand image and personality, including logo, product design and website.
If you’re willing to wait by a display you may even be able to engage with a fellow shopper to learn more about their thoughts and feelings about everything from packaging to product design to price. And what you learn may surprise you. The sentiments revealed in focus groups are sometimes sanitized and/or influenced by the group. The consumer who is standing in front of the shelves with their wallet in hand, on the other hand, may offer up much more candid and telling opinions.
Success in the marketplace is not entirely about packaging or shelf placement but as we learned from Apple and its unboxing trials, the immediate consumer experience matters. That fact is that when you put yourself in a shopper’s shoes you can increase the odds that your product will be successful right out of the gate.