Monday, October 29, 2012

A Thousand Words, Sure. Thousands of Dollars? That, Too.

It's an old truism that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well how about several tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars?  The picture you see here to the right is the result of Sandy-inspired hysteria at a supermarket in the American Northeast (I'm not sure of the exact location...I snagged it from a high school buddy's Facebook post).  What it shows me is that Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Swirl Bread is being roundly rejected by shoppers at this supermarket.  So why is this picture so valuable?  It's because companies spend lots of money on focus groups, market surveys, and sample tests before they launch products.  And even after spending all that dough, they STILL sometimes don't get it right.  
Why not?
Because people aren't always honest about they way they respond to those things.  It's not that they're intentionally deceitful, but there's an inherent bias we have when we're asked about a theoretical idea (How would you like to take a cruise to Bermuda this winter?  What about a road trip to Niagara Falls and a Bills-Pats game?  Would you try a loaf of Pumpkin Swirl Bread?  Would you pay for a satellite radio subscription?) We sort of naturally just say "sure" to some of those questions because, well, why not? 
What we wacky consumers actually DO, though, is an entirely different story.  Trying to divine consumer buying habits in advance of real data is kind of like long-term weather forecasting, or thinking you have a system that's going to make you rich in betting on football games.                            
I acknowledge there are 3-4 loaves of something at the bottom of the shelf -- not sure what that is.  But any supermarket retailer knows that the eye-level and arm's reach stuff is what's going to move first. If there were just onesies and twosies of several other brand loaves on the shelves, this picture wouldn't be saying nearly as much.  However, the COMPLETE emptiness around the Pumpkin Swirl shows that whatever consumers came AFTER those other brands sold out preferred to risk going without bread rather than buying Pumpkin Swirl. 

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