Research, analysis, evaluation

Was This Analysis Necessary?
According to the National Post of May 4, 1999, a "retail psychologist" in the United Kingdom has made a breakthrough in the understanding of consumer behaviour. Buyers at Tesco PLC, the biggest British supermarket chain, were perplexed by women shoppers' preference for smaller melons (one possibility not considered in the article is that perhaps Tesco buyers have a little too much time on their hands).

A focus group of women shoppers supposedly raised the question of whether the preference was connected "subconsciously" to breast size. Enter the retail psychologist, who surveyed women and found that seven of 10 thought there was a subconscious relationship between melon preference and the breast size of popular supermodels, while five of 10 claimed that the relationship was conscious (that means that at least 2 of 10 thought breast size was both a conscious and subconscious influence, an interesting finding which the Post did not pursue).

Well, ask a stupid question and you'll get a stupid answer. There isn't much sense to asking people what influences them subconsciously, is there? How would they know? An extensive acquaintance with the British people suggests to me that the particular British people surveyed probably thought the mickey was being taken out of them, so they decided to reciprocate. Nevertheless, the big problem with this study is not what was found but rather what Tesco decided as a result.

All Tesco did was order smaller melons. They could have done that without the research, couldn't they? If people like little melons, you don't need to do a study to make up your mind to order smaller melons. If Tesco liked the results of the research, why not do something like hiring Melissa DiMarco (or her British equivalent) as a spokesperson to get the big melons moving again? Why not package melons in pairs?

The research also claims that women found small melons comforting. I suspect, though, that the people whose comfort was most important in this research were the people at Tesco. Research is often performed as a sort of lucky charm. Hesitating about making the obvious decision, people commission "research" to embolden themselves. What Tesco really needed was some rigorous scientific research to establish first of all whether a preference for small melons actually existed, and if it existed whether it could be explained by some other factor associated with smallness perhaps the small melons tended to be fresher, for example.

I'm sure we all eagerly await further revelations about how liking for supermodels is subconsciously determined by the typical sizes of melon at the supermarket.

Was this Analysis Necessary? © 1999, John FitzGerald

 Home pageDecisionmakers' index  | E-mail