Cracking The Customer Code - InformationWeek
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7/10/2006
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Cracking The Customer Code

One of the most difficult tasks for any business to master is predicting trends. If you could only read the customer's mind, your inventory would fly off the shelf and you'd have a few extra bucks in your pocket. Focus groups can help provide insight, but they can be expensive and time-consuming, and the results can be suspect (group size is small and if the members aren't highly screened you may not get a quality sample). A new tool that could prove useful in the arsenal for cracking the custom

One of the most difficult tasks for any business to master is predicting trends. If you could only read the customer's mind, your inventory would fly off the shelf and you'd have a few extra bucks in your pocket. Focus groups can help provide insight, but they can be expensive and time-consuming, and the results can be suspect (group size is small and if the members aren't highly screened you may not get a quality sample). A new tool that could prove useful in the arsenal for cracking the customer code is Google Trends.

Google Trends analyzes a portion of Google Web searches to determine how many searches have been done for the terms entered relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. A search-volume graph is presented with the results. So, let's say you are in charge of inventory at a small to midsize company. Because your company isn't a behemoth, you likely wear more than one hat -- which is often overwhelming, but the flip side is you can often make decisions quickly, based on your own research rather than waiting for endless rounds of approvals. Your company runs three ladies' apparel stores, in New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami. You're wondering how much floor space to give particular designers, for example, Vera Wang and Marc Jacobs. Simple type in "Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang" into Google Trends, and voila!, you'll see Jacobs in far more popular in New York, runs neck and neck in Miami and is slightly less popular in Washington. There are different combinations of searches that can be employed, too. For example, to determine how many searches contained the terms "Jacobs" or "Wang," you enter Jacobs | Wang. That type of information, in conjunction with the stores' sales data, can help a store manager with inventory and floor space decisions -- especially if there isn't time or money for formal marketing studies.

Google Trends help develop any number of trendlines, but remember, that this is a glimpse only at search results, not buying patterns. It's indicative of what's topical, sure, but should be considered an ingredient rather than the whole recipe for success. For instance, entering "bikini, one-piece swimsuit" brings back results that appear to make the one-piece suit as though it didn't even exist. And though some of you might like to believe that, I suspect there are many women who'd advise boutiques to take that marketing advice with a grain of salt.

Jennifer Bosavage is a freelance writer secializing in small business technology issues. She is sitting in for the vacationing Antone Gonsalves.

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