Pragmatic Applications of Consumer Research in Retailing

ABSTRACT - Pragmatic consumer research in retailing has burgeoned in recent years based on leadership by sophisticated consumer researchers in savvy retailing organizations. This session discusses pragmatic consumer research in retailing from the vantage points of merchandising management and retail researchers across divergent retailing contexts. Summary generalizations and new directions for future research are reviewed.


Charles W. King, Douglas J. Tigert, and Lawrence J. Ring (1979) ,"Pragmatic Applications of Consumer Research in Retailing", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 20-26.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 20-26


Charles W. King, Purdue University

Douglas J. Tigert, University of Toronto

Lawrence J. Ring, University of Virginia


Pragmatic consumer research in retailing has burgeoned in recent years based on leadership by sophisticated consumer researchers in savvy retailing organizations. This session discusses pragmatic consumer research in retailing from the vantage points of merchandising management and retail researchers across divergent retailing contexts. Summary generalizations and new directions for future research are reviewed.


In recent years, the retailing community has developed increased sophistication in using consumer research. The objective of the session, Pragmatic Applications of Consumer Research in Retailing, was to increase dialogue between the retailing community and the academic community interested in consumer research in retailing.

More specifically, the session was organized to present some practical applications of consumer research in retailing with managerial implications and to identify major developments and new directions for consumer research in the broad retailing arena. Toward that goal, a diverse set of speakers was recruited. The speakers included merchandising management, retailing researchers, and academics involved in consulting and more theoretical consumer research in retailing. The speakers from the retailing community were:

Mr. Vern L. Page--National Merchandise Manager of the Bath, Slumber and Hostess Products Department, Sears Roebuck and Company

Mr. Ralph D. Holt--Research Director, Federated Department Stores

Mr. Alfred L. Morin--Associate Research Director, Burger King Corporation

The academic research team of King, Tigert and Ring developed a backdrop of managerial research in retailing to place the pragmatic applications in perspective, synthesized the session presentations and discussion into this summary statement, and highlighted major conclusions and future Consumer research directions in retailing.


In recent years, there has been a marketing research explosion in the retailing community, particularly among the major retailing organizations. Hundreds of articles, research reports and research notes/observations/assertions appear annually in the retailing trade press, in the industry trade channels, and in the academic literature.

The growth in retailing research, however, is a comparatively recent development. Historically, retailing has been one of the last outposts of the "gut feel/learn-at-the-retail counter" management school. And, within some departments of the major retailers today, and among most of the smaller retailing firms, the "research revolution" not withstanding, that management style still prevails. In fact, much of the "theory" of contemporary retailing is a compendium of "philosophical commentary," "sacred cows," and folklore based axioms/principles that are accepted as "conventional wisdom" among operationally savvy retailing managers.

To complicate the problem further, there is no actual "retailing industry." Rather, there is a series of different types of retailing institutions or sectors of retailing, e.g., the supermarket sector, the general merchandise store field, the general merchandise discount store world, the specialty/boutique retailing milieu, the service retailing area, the special product merchant, e.g., the fast food retailer, the lawn and garden retailer, the gasoline retailer, etc. Each of these sectors has its own operating philosophy and perceptions of consumer behavior and competitive reality.

The increase in managerial interest in research has been the product of rather dramatic changes and challenges in the competitive environment of contemporary retailing. The retailing research thrust has come from several sources. Retailing research is generated within the retailing organizations to analyze daily operations, to track sales and profit performance, to monitor store imagery among consumers and to track the changing competitive market structure. Likewise, the volume and potential sophistication of internal sales analysis now available to the retailer is almost unlimited given modern computer technology and innovations in retailing operations such as the point-of-sale accounting system.

Major manufacturing resources conduct research to support their products' sales through the retailing distribution channel. The mass media are increasingly researching consumer shopping and buying behavior to support and solicit the retailers advertising dollars. [The CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, in conjunction with King and Ring, is currently developing a massive consumer research data bank on male and female fashion involvement, attitudes, buying behavior, communications exposure, and consumers' perceptions of leading fashion retailers' images in the competitive fashion market in Chicago to support the Chicago retailing community and its advertising planning.] Likewise in academia, Speh (1978) notes that the retail environment has become an important research setting for a number of academic disciplines.

Admittedly, much of this retailing "research" may be methodologically unsophisticated by the criteria of the marketing analytic and the "scientific method." The content, however, is part of the burgeoning information "fog" in which the retailing manager operates.

King and King (1978) surveyed and synthesized the trade and academic literature, interviewed researchers in major retailing organizations, and identified a series of research themes or major topic areas that characterize the emerging retailing research literature. As presented in Figure 1, the focus of retailing commentary/research is very broad and multi-dimensional. [For a discussion of on-going research directions within the retailing community, see Pessemier (1978).]




Vern L. Page, Sears, Roebuck and Company, dealt with consumer research as a pragmatic input to the marketing planning and merchandising function of the merchandising manager. Toward that goal, the discussion outlined the Sears organization and the buying/merchandising function, the role of consumer research in that system, the major dimensions of consumer research analysis, the activities of competitive monitoring and the measurement of retail market effectiveness.

The Sears Organizational Structure and the Buying Function

To place the role of consumer research in perspective, the Sears organization structure and the internal buying function were reviewed.

Sears is organized around two operating units: the field organization and the headquarters organization. The field organization is comprised of fourteen catalog merchandise distribution centers, 2900 catalogue sales facilities and 862 retail stores. The field organization is the selling arm of Sears.

The headquarters organization consists of the corporate executive group, a series of support functions including consumer research and the corporate buying activity. The headquarters organization plans, selects, and buys the merchandise which the field organization sells.

Within headquarters, the buying activity is performed by some fifty buying departments, each with responsibility for a specific set of products. Each buying department is managed by a National Merchandise Manager and features a catalog and retail marketing staff as well as a series of buyers.

The Bath, Slumber and Hostess Products Department, the context upon which this presentation is based, is composed of ten buyers covering the entire range of products in this category, including towels, bath accessories, bath carpet, shower curtains, comforter pillows, blankets, sheets, mattress pads, hostess products, etc. The Sears buyer is responsible for reviewing, developing, selecting, pricing, buying and servicing all of the products sold in the category seasonally or annually depending on the products in question. In this department, the product lines are changed annually.

The Marketing Plan and Consumer Research

The buying function is managed through preparation of a written marketing plan from which is developed the merchandising plan for the department. The first step in preparing the marketing plan is the development of a comprehensive situation analysis of information about the consumer, the competition, the market structure, the product and the manufacturing resource situation. From this data, the problems and opportunities are identified within the product line. Based on that analysis, a series of line performance objectives are defined and the tactical plans are prepared to maximize the line's performance.

Consumer research input into these marketing and merchandising plans comes from two broad research streams: on-going, routine tracking research which generates competitive market structure detail across and within product categories and special, focused research projects addressing a particular product or operating problem. More specifically, at Sears, the research data are produced from these sources:

1) "Databank"--a Sears developed research program that examines the home fashions product purchasing behavior of 20,000 United States households by product line annually.

2) The "Major Market Studies"--a series of products important to Sears are evaluated and tracked in each of the major retailing markets in terms of market share and competitive positioning.

3) Qualitative and quantitative "special studies" periodically conducted to focus on specific aspects of the product line and market conditions, as needed by the buyer.

Major Dimension of Consumer Research Analysis

Consumer profile analysis, particularly in terms of demographic characteristics, is an important area of retailing research. More specifically, consumers are measured in terms of where they live, annual family income, age of the female head of household, and occupation of the male head of the household. Analysis centers on profiling Sears customers versus competition and on tracking of geographic sources of sales volume and that of competition.

Because the characteristics of the housing unit are a critical element in the sale of bath, slumber and hostess products, data are collected about home features, e.g., whether the home is rented or owned, the style of the house, and the number of bathrooms, bedrooms, dining areas, etc. These data are then used for better understanding consumer buying behavior in the product category.

To better direct marketing communications, the media habits in terms of television viewership, radio listenership, and magazine usage are monitored for Sears customers versus competition's customers.

Additionally, the buyer monitors a variety of other dimensions of consumer buying behavior such as:

1) The annual purchase incidence of the product to measure and forecast market potential.

2) Total number of items in each product area that are purchased annually.

3) Gift or self consumption buying.

4) Purchase at sale or regular price.

5) The month in which purchase is made to detect seasonality of buying behavior and merchandising opportunities.

6) Coordinated products that are purchased at the same time or are integrated in the purchase dynamic.

7) The average price paid.

8) The identity and profile characteristics of the buyer/user where available.

Competitive Monitoring and Measuring "Retail Market Effectiveness"

Market structure analysis and tracking of movements by competitors in the market are important activities in consumer research. Share of market, Sears versus its major competitors, is an extremely important point of analysis. Share of market is calculated by total product category and by sub-categories within the broad product group. Likewise, tracking the shopper's shopping patterns in competitors' stores gives insight into the products and departments where the customer is doing comparative shopping and the competitive products that must be faced.

An important consumer research tool centers on measuring "retail market effectiveness." The measure of "retail market effectiveness" revolves around the issues of "drawing power," getting customers to shop the particular retail outlet for the product category, and "selling power," the conversion of the shopper into an actual retail buyer of the product. Comparative monitoring of the "drawing" and "selling" power of Sears versus competition can measure retail selling effectiveness.

Integrated Research Programming and Marketing Planning

In addition to the routine consumer monitoring and tracking research, Page presented several case studies in the areas of blankets and pillows. The case studies described integrated research programs which took the product from initial concept definition, through product development, into commercial introduction, followed by measurement of market penetration and retail market effectiveness.


Ralph D. Holt, Federated Department Stores, approached consumer research from the vantage point of the sophisticated consumer researcher who must integrate the research contribution into the retailer's decision making process. Toward that goal, the discussion outlined the consumer research function within the Federated organization, presented the major consumer research activities, discussed conceptual approaches to segmentation and store image analysis, and outlined some future directions for research development.

The Federated Department Stores Organization

The Federated Department Stores organization is composed of fifteen relatively autonomous department store divisions representing some of the bellwether department stores in the United States. The group includes such leaders as Abraham & Straus, Bloomingdale's, Bullock's, Filene's, Lazarus and Rich's. Additionally, Federated is diversified into women's specialty apparel with I. Magnin and Bullock's Wilshire, hardgoods with Gold Triangle, discount chains with Gold Circle and Richway and supermarkets with Ralph's. Though diversified, the major share of the firm's approximately five billion dollars in retail sales is accounted for by the department store divisions.

A characteristic of the Federated organization, the divisions operate as very autonomous staff-lean management units. Each division operates, on the average, six to seven retail stores. The corporate offices located in Cincinnati, Ohio, houses the basic corporate functions. The staff departments such as the Consumer Research Department operate as consultants to the divisions and to top corporate management.

The Role and Scope of the Consumer Research Department

The Consumer Research Department at Federated Department Stores is 15 years old and specializes in survey research and marketing planning. The staff totals thirteen people, eight of whom are professionals. The group conducts approximately 100 projects each year.

The role of the Consumer Research Department is to serve as an operating problem answer generator. The management style of the Federated operating executives is very "action focused" with a pragmatic, 'Bottom line" orientation.

The challenge to the marketing research function is straightforward. Research must be problem focused. Data must be clear and conclusions specific. The implications must be "actionable" in terms of the specific tactical actions that the operating management can execute now,.

The scope of the research effort includes the following types of research activities:

1) Development of sales estimates for potential stores to support real estate decisions and financial/marketing planning in conjunction with another corporate staff group, the Area Research Department.

2) Identification of growth opportunities for the existing stores as input to marketing planning.

3) Operating information generation in answer to specific operating questions, e.g., customer reaction to sales service,

4) Measurement of employee attitudes toward their jobs, management, new compensation and benefit programs, etc.

5) Miscellaneous problem solving as required.

The Development of Sales Estimates for Potential New Stores

A major activity of the Consumer Research Department is the generation of information for use by the Area Research Department in building sales estimates for potential new stores to guide expansion decisions. This research area reflects the breadth of consumer research at Federated.

Developing sales estimates for potential new stores build upon measurement of two basic concepts of market assessment: trading area determination and market quality.

In defining the trading area of a potential store site, the first step is the measurement of geographical trading areas through "point of origin" studies. These "P-O-O" studies are intended to identify the trading area of a given shopping center by simply intercepting people in the mall to define their home addresses.

Given alternative retail store sites and the travel patterns of the respective target consumers, the relative overlap of alternative sites can be measured in terms of their geographical proximity to the consumers' shopping/travel patterns. The pragmatic store location question is, which alternative site would be the best location to reach the target market?

Market quality assessment is aimed at measuring the "trading quality" of the geographic market. Market quality assessment involves a number of different interrelated analyses focusing on:

1) Demographic data update. Usually, particularly in rapidly changing growth markets, available secondary Census data are old--frequently several years out of date--and do not reflect current market expansions and population movements.

2) The "quality level" of consumer shopping patterns. Do consumers in the market tend to buy budget priced goods, medium priced goods, or better/higher priced goods?

3) Fashion involvement. What is the level of fashion involvement of consumers in the market area. To what extent are consumers interested in buying the very latest fashions?

4) Current shopping behavior of consumers in the geographical market on a store-by-store comparison for specific merchandise categories. Analysis frequently focuses on the "store shopped most often/the headquarters store" compared with other stores across product groups.


The on-going consumer research at Federated has identified two basic dimensions of retail market segmentation that appear particularly important to the general merchandise product category. The two basic dimensions are "quality acceptance" and fashion involvement.

"Quality Acceptance"

The "quality acceptance" measure refers to the consumer's general propensity to buy lower priced goods, medium priced goods, or higher priced goods. The concept builds upon the following propositions that have emerged from empirical research across a variety of studies:

1) Store shopping behavior is related to the price paid for individual items. Higher priced goods tend to be bought from department and specialty stores; lower priced goods tend to be bought from discount stores.

2) Shoppers tend to be consistent in their propensity to buy lower priced or higher priced merchandise across product categories. People who tend to do purchase on the higher end of the price spectrum for one kind of merchandise tend to be on the higher priced end for other kinds of merchandise.

3) The "quality acceptance" measure is a better indicator/discriminator of shopping behavior at particular types of stores and at individual retailers than traditional demographic measures.

The "Quality acceptance" scale is used to categorize consumers into five segments based on their price point shopping styles. The local Federated store's customer share in each of the segments compared with competition is tracked as a measure of merchandising performance and target market penetration.

Fashion Involvement

Fashion involvement deals with the female consumer's interest in and adoption of new fashions. After extensive exploratory research, a "contingency approach" was developed to measure fashion involvement. The underlying concept was that, for the consumer to adopt new fashions, there are certain requisite conditions that must be met:

1) Dress size must be small, i.e., size 10 or smaller, to access the consumer to the more fashionable merchandise which is, in fact, more readily available in smaller sizes.

2) Consumers must spend a reasonable amount on fashion apparel annually, arbitrarily defined as $500 per year.

3) Consumers must have a manifest interest in fashion based on self declared fashion interest or other surrogate variables, e.g., fashion magazine readership.

Based on the contingency approach and these variables, a scale is developed to measure "the consumer's propensity to adopt new fashions."

Using the fashion involvement scale, four segments are identified ranging from low to high fashion involvement. As with the "quality acceptance" measure, the local Federated store's customer share in each of the segments compared with competition is monitored and tracked over time as a measure of merchandising performance and target market penetration.

Store Preference and Image Measurement

An important element in consumer research at Federated deals with shoppers' store preferences and store images. As basic measures of shoppers' store preferences, two basic questions are used:

1) "Which stores do you usually shop for your own apparel and household goods..?"--used to identify "occasionally shopped" stores;

2) "Which one do you shop most often...?--used to identify the consumer's "headquarters store." This measure correlates very highly with store market share ("r" in the range of .85).

In terms of measuring store images, seven basic image item questions as listed in Figue 2 are typically used. Based on factor analysis, these items are reduced to four basic image dimensions of convenience, value for the money, fashion orientation, and salespeople availability.

A Typical Federated Study

Building upon the foregoing discussion, a typical Federated consumer research study would involve the following analytical modules:

1) A current demographic profile of the particular geographic market is developed in terms of traditional demographic measures, age, education, income, occupation of chief wage earner, etc.



2) Using the consumers who "shop federated most often" as Federated's most loyal shopper group, analysis is focused on the store's penetration in each of the demographic segments

3) Applying the "quality acceptance" measure to the local market, its profile on this dimension is compared with the national standard. Using the five quality acceptance segments, Federated's customer share is compared with other competitors.

4) Applying the fashion involvement measure and the resulting four fashion segments, Federated's customer share is compared with other competitors.

5) Store images of Federated compared with other competitors are measured on the seven items and four factors presented in Figure 2 for both customers who shop the local Federated store most often and for those who occasionally shop.

From this type of consumer research project comes valuable input to retailing management for defining the store's current position and its market penetration. Likewise, based on this bench mark, the impact of new merchandising strategies can be measured in terms of penetration changes in specified target market segments.

Areas for Future Development

Two basic areas for future development of consumer research in retailing have been identified. In the field of store image research, a variety of measures of store image have been used in the literature and in the Federated research efforts. Two questions arise:

1) Are these the correct image dimensions to be analyzed and are the measurement procedures valid?

2) Assuming a reasonably comprehensive set of store image dimensions can be operationally defined and measured, what is the relative importance of the various image dimensions in influencing store choice and shopping behavior?

Little research has treated this very critical issue of image dimension importance which is essential to the retail manager in allocating merchandising resources.

The second critical area for development centers on the actionability of the research data. Consumer research in retailing is increasingly effective in identifying problems. The research, however, has too often been unable to produce clear solutions to the identified problems to guide the retailing manager.


Alfred L. Morin, Burger King Corporation, approached the consumer research task at the Burger King Corporation as an integrated on-going consumer research market monitoring function. In that context, Morin outlined the broader marketing research activity within the Burger King Corporation and presented an illustrative series of consumer research projects that comprised a comprehensive and integrated consumer research program.

The Role and Scope of Marketing Research at the Burger King Corporation

The Marketing Research Department at the Burger King Corporation is composed of the Research Director, the Associate Research Director, five Research Managers and eight analysts. The role of the group is to support the retail marketing operations with pragmatic, actionable research and operational recommendations. Toward this goal, the Marketing Research Department does research for a wide range of corporate client departments such as the Procurement Department, the Real Estate Department, the Operations Research and Development Department as well as the field marketing organization.

The emphasis on actionable research results is reflected in the funding of the Marketing Research Department. The corporate budget supports the managerial personnel, the Research Directors and the Research Managers. The corporate research client end users, however, pay all out-of-pocket research project expenses plus assigned analyst time and overhead costs associated with specific projects. Therefore, the department research must be cost-effective to secure corporate clients and to survive.

The types of research and the relative budget commitments to the various research activities are summarized in Figure 3. Consumer research commands the largest budget and is conducted both within house and through J. Walter Thompson, Burger King's advertising agency. Product testing is a unique retailing research function but is mandatory in food retailing. The operations research and the local store area research are relatively new additions to the function. They focus on the mechanical aspects of day-to-day store operation within the specific local market competitive context.



Consumer Research at Burger King: An Integrated Program

The consumer research effort within the Marketing Research Department at Burger King has been designed as an integrated research program involving three tiers, national marketing research, geographic market wide coverage and local restaurant focused research. The research program is intended to generate a comprehensive information system ranging from macro national marketing information applicable to broad strategic planning down to local restaurant image assessment and operations evaluation for tactical outlet management. Illustrative projects representative of the three tiered consumer research program are discussed in the following sections.

National Consumer Research

The national consumer research thrust involves several major research areas including:

1) Adult advertising awareness tracking.

2) Children's advertising awareness tracking.

3) Large scale menu census: "Who eats what" with comprehensive customer profiling based on a sample of 22 bellwether restaurants.

4) Strategic Segmentation Study designed to support full scale brand and product review in 1979.

5) Advertising copy testing using sophisticated technology developed by J. Walter Thompson.

The adult and children's advertising studies periodically track brand awareness and usage, advertising awareness and advertising recall. The Strategic Segmentation Study is an omnibus research effort including attribute and similarities analysis, importance of particular attributes in the shopping process, attitudes toward the "eating process" and the role of fast foods hamburger restaurants in that process, life style dimensions, etc.

Market Wide Consumer Research: "Marketrac"

The market wide consumer research monitoring project, "Marketrac" focuses on a geographic trading area, the area of dominant influence (ADI). The purpose of this type of penetration survey is to provide quantified consumer perceptions of Burger King's position within a specific ADI relative to competition, relative to Burger King's share of fast food hamburger distribution in the area and relative to marketing, demographic, and operational strengths and weaknesses in the market.

The research is a joint venture between the regional Burger King field marketing management and the corporate Marketing Research Department. The Regional Marketing Manager develops information on Burger King's share of the total chain fast food hamburger restaurants in the market. The Marketing Research Department conducts a telephone survey of approximately 400 consumers randomly selected from the market area. The telephone survey focuses on the key dimensions of awareness, trial, "use most," "used recently/within the past 4 weeks", and ratings on specific attributes of the Burger King image and product.

The analysis focuses on:

1) Burger King awareness, trial, use most, and used past four weeks across various relevant market segments, e.g., adults vs. teenagers, males vs. females, heavy vs. light fast food hamburger restaurant users.

2) Comparison of Burger King's "use most" score to the share of units of distribution to evaluate whether Burger King is getting its" fair market share" based on its physical store density in the market.

3) Evaluation of marketing/operational opportunities based on the strong and weak image features reported by the "use most" the "used recently" and the non-user market segments.

Local Restaurant Focused Consumer Research

The local restaurant focused consumer research is aimed at providing a better understanding of consumer buying behavior in the fast food hamburger restaurant context and the competitive market structure at the local restaurant level. The output should produce actionable recommendations for the restaurant manager.

Three types of research studies are illustrative of this area:

1) The Trading Area Survey Kit (TASK).


3) Local Store Attitude Study (Developmental).

The Trading Area Survey Kit (TASK)

The trading area survey is designed to provide data on where customers are coming from and going to related to their Burger King patronage. The surveys are administered by a trained interviewer at the door of the subject restaurant to very "Nth" customer entering the restaurant.

Customers are quizzed regarding where they were prior to coming to Burger King, where they are going after leaving and where they live. Additionally, the respondents are surveyed regarding the shopping group size, composition, frequency of visiting Burger King and competitors, and opinions about the local Burger King operation.

These diagnostic trading area surveys are conducted at the discretion of the Burger King field management, but are typically conducted twice a year. In problem situations, after the problem identification/diagnosis survey is completed and remedial action is executed, post-action surveys may be taken to measure impact. These surveys constitute the basis for the six-month local restaurant marketing plan.

"CANNIBEST" (Cannibalization Estimation)

The purpose of "Cannibest" is to estimate the potential impact of a proposed restaurant on the retail sales of an existing Burger King restaurant.

The "Cannibest" research effort is again a joint venture. The Marketing Research Department provides information about the customers of the existing Burger King sites. From that data, the Burger King real estate representatives make an estimate of cannibalization that will result from a new operation at the proposed site. When a "Cannibest" study is requested, the Marketing Research Department sends professional interviewers to the existing restaurant. Approximately 500 customers are interviewed, typically on a Thursday and a Saturday. The interview protocol is very similar to that used in the Trading Area Surveys.

The real estate representatives take the research data and integrate trading area knowledge, traffic flow, neighborhood composition, natural and man-made trading barriers, etc. From this information bank, the Cannibalization Estimate is made to guide the expansion decision.

Local Store Attitude Study

The local store attitude study is a qualitative and developmental effort to generate qualitative insight into consumers' problems with specific restaurants at the local level. The research approach is an effective way for owner/operators to solicit communications from their store customers efficiently.

Methodologically, a convenience sample of any available customers or non-customers is interviewed. The interviewer is typically a restaurant crew member. The interview questionnaire is short and merely probes for specific problem areas and suggestions for improvement. The respondent's responses are recorded verbatim on the questionnaire in as much detail as practical.

The analysis involves the restaurant operator reading the comments and considering action responses. Special emphasis is placed on comments from customers who have visited the restaurant once or twice and have not returned.


Building upon the foregoing presentations and experience in retailing research in both academic and consulting roles, the academic team has drawn several basic conclusions regarding consumer research in retailing and suggested directions for future research in the area.

1) Taking a macro-view, the retailing literature and pragmatic retailing practice indicate that retailing research can be organized around three broad themes:

a) Consumer shopping dynamics, decision making, choice processes, and ultimate buying behavior.

b) Operations analysis focusing on the day-to-day mechanics of retail institution operations, e.g., store layout, organizational structure and personnel management, merchandising, etc.

c) Performance measurement in financial terms, e.g., sales per square foot, return on sales or in- vestment, and marketing terms, market share or penetration of target markets compared with competition.

Consumer research, while central to understanding consumer shopping/buying behavior, can make major contributions in the other areas of operations analysis and performance measurement as well.

2) Consumer research within the retailing firm should be organized into an integrated program involving a series of independent but interrelated projects which can contribute to ail three major information zones.

3) Consumer research within the retailing institution, to secure adequate funding and to have maximum impact on retailing management, must be clear and interpretable into actionable recommendations with immediate payoff.

4) Consumer research proposals must be cost effective in methodological design and justified in a cost- benefit context to secure funding.

5) The dilemma of breadth of research coverage will continue to plague the retailing research community. Should the focus be on the stock keeping unit (SKU), e.g., "the green socks syndrome," or should research deal with the more macro issues of "the store" or "the department" versus the merchandise? Should market monitoring be aimed at broad national developments or should the focus be on local market monitoring and specific store strategies and tactics? Obviously, both macro and micro types of information are needed. But in the reality of scarce research resources, which should have priority?

6) Generalizations produced by consumer research in retailing will continue to be elusive because of the pragmatism of the field and the heterogeneity of the retailing milieu. Major theoretical developments, however, can be realized when consumer re- search is focused on specific product contexts in specific retailing institutions, e.g., consumer fashion buying behavior within department and specialty stores or image dimension importance for fast food hamburger restaurants.

7) Several major consumer research thrusts in retailing have emerged in recent years and will become increasingly visible over the near term in the maturation of this pragmatic research tradition:

a) There will be an expansion of routine, periodic local market monitoring of consumer shop shopping/buying behavior and competitive store positioning across the various mass merchandising retail institutions of supermarkets, fast food outlets, general merchandise department and fashion specialty retailers, etc.

b) Consumer life style research, already well established in other marketing arenas, will become increasingly important in retail market segmentation and market structure analysis and in targeting retail marketing and merchandising programs at specific market segments.

c) Store image research, long intuitively appealing to and reasonably accepted by knowledgeable retailers, will move to a higher level of methodological and analytical sophistication and assume a major role in the dynamics of store positioning and market monitoring.

d) Consumer information seeking and processing research relating the roles of the mass media and in-store shopping in retail marketing communication will have high potential pragmatic payoff to the merchandising function.

e) New electronic technology, e.g., point-of-sale accounting and optical scanning equipment, will open whole new opportunities for diagnostic consumer research in retailing.

In summary, consumer research in retailing is becoming an integral part of the management information system for the informed retail manager. The outlook indicates that consumer research can make an increasing contribution to understanding consumer behavior in the retailing milieu and in supporting retailing management decision making.


Charles W. King and Sandra E. King, "Managerial Research in Retailing: A Perspective," an unpublished working paper, 1978.

Edgar A. Pessemier, Some Current Directions for Retailing Research, September, 1978, Institute Paper No. 676. Institute for Research in the Behavioral, Economic and Management Sciences, Krannert Graduate School of Management, Purdue University.

Thomas W. Speh, "A Summary of Doctoral Research in Retailing," The Journal of Retailing, Summer, 1978, pp. 71-80.



Charles W. King, Purdue University
Douglas J. Tigert, University of Toronto
Lawrence J. Ring, University of Virginia


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06 | 1979

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