The Wall Street Journal ran an interview this weekend with Ira Neimar, former CEO of Bergdorf Goodman (the luxury retailer). Neimar offered several of his core principles for running a successful retailer. Here's one:
"There is no question, in any business, that it is imperative to know as much as possible about your present and potential customer." The backstory: Mr. Neimark is a proponent of earning one's MBWA degree (Management By Walking Around), interacting with actual customers to find out what's working and what's not. He likens using a focus group to the old New England expression: "It is like kissing a girl through the screen door."
Bottom Line: Focus groups have significant limitations. When it comes to learning from focus groups, remember that p often say one thing and do another. Asking individuals questions in focus groups and surveys may yield answers that are not consistent with the way those consumers actually behave in their homes or at retail stores. Moreover, responses may become distorted because market researchers ask leading questions, or simply hear what they want to hear.