Identifying customers and meeting their needs

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 Introduction

Marketing is about making sure that a business is providing the goods and services that customers want. It involves identifying and anticipating what consumers want today and will want in the future. The marketing department then plays an important role in taking these goods and services to market through all the channels the business sells through. This case study focuses on the way in which Argos makes sure that it meets the needs of its customers.

Argos was founded in 1973 and is now the UK's leading general merchandise retailer with sales of over £3.3 billion. Argos is owned by GUS plc and is part of the Argos Retail Group with over 580 stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland, as well as distribution centres, call centres and its head office in Milton Keynes, employing over 23,000 people in total. Approximately 98% of the UK population live within 10 miles of an Argos store.

In the modern world of retailing consumers can have their needs met in a variety of ways such as High Street shopping, out of town shopping centres, and by direct delivery from Internet orders. Competition among retailers is increasingly getting tough. Differentiation is therefore the key to developing a compelling competitive advantage and winning loyal customers. Differentiation is the process of making your business stand out from rivals - making it different and better.

Marketeers at Argos therefore are continually concerned with addressing the questions:

  • Who are our customers? (Argos needs to find out as much as possible about its customers in order to meet their needs.)
  • Are we offering the right combination of choice, value and convenience?
  • How can we create a compelling competitor advantage? (How is Argos different from the competition?)
  • How can we defend what business we already have and how can we grow?
  • How do we effectively communicate to our customer base?

Since it first started, Argos has established a very strong, trusted brand focused on value, choice and convenience. It is the UK's number one retailer for toys and small electrical appliances; it has a major presence in many other markets including DIY and gardening, consumer electronics and furniture and a significant market share in jewellery (being No.1 in terms of volume) and sports equipment.

Consumers are offered a multi-channel approach to shopping. Argos publishes two catalogues a year, the spring/summer edition in January and the autumn/winter catalogue in July.

 Mission statement

All organisations need to have a sense of direction or purpose. This is usually set out in one or a few short sentences known as the mission statement. Argos' mission statement is:

' Argos publishes two catalogues a year, the spring/summer edition in January and the autumn/winter catalogue in July.'

This statement clearly sets out the main areas which differentiate Argos from its rivals, namely by offering its customers:

  • value for money, and
  • convenience (mainly through use of the catalogue at home).

Meeting customer needs

Argos recognises that its many customers have different needs and prefer to shop in different ways. About 80% of Argos customers have already decided what they want to buy before visiting the store.

One of the prime reasons these customers choose to shop with Argos is because they know that they will get value for money. In general, retail space is very expensive. The more goods there are on display in a shop, the more space is taken up and the higher the prices as you will only be too aware when you examine prices in High Street shops.

Argos is able to offer the customer value for money prices, because it has a low cost business model with limited product displays. In addition it benefits from economies of scale because as a popular national chain, it is able to buy in bulk and, by organising national distribution systems, is able to reduce logistics costs to a minimum.

Convenience

Argos provides a very convenient way for customers to shop. They are able to look through a catalogue at their leisure and choose from an extremely broad product range. The range of what is offered is not limited by the display space in-store and can be accessed in a variety of ways.

 Customers and segmentation

Within markets, not all groups of customers are the same - they do not have the same taste, and incomes or want the same things. It is helpful to think of a market as an orange. When you look at the orange from the outside you see a shiny orange skin that all looks the same. However, when you peel off the skin you find that it is made up of a number of segments, each of which exists within the whole. The segments in an orange are more or less identical, but in markets, by contrast, they are different in terms of size and character.

A segment, therefore, is a group of consumers who share common characteristics, that are different from other groups. Different segments may require different versions of the product, they may pay different prices and they may buy the product in different places.

The most common way of segmenting a market is by demographics. Demography is the study of population. Demographic segmentation recognises that different sections of the population have different buying patterns and preferences to others. For example, there is a difference in taste and spending patterns between the old and the young, between men and women, according to locality etc.

Argos tested out demographic approaches but found that this was not a very accurate basis for segmentation. A much more helpful basis has proved to be the frequency of visitors (i.e. the number of times customers visit the website, or visit stores).

A distinction is often made in business between the internal and external customers of an organisation. The external customers of a retailing business are the shoppers who want to be served in an efficient and friendly way. Internal customers are fellow employees that we work alongside in a place of work. If we treat them as customers then we help them to serve external customers well.

The Argos way of working is built on a belief that the external customer is the most important customer. Argos people are a team of colleagues who work together to meet customers needs.

 Strategy

A strategy is a general plan which an organisation puts into practice to achieve particular end purposes (also known as objectives). There are all sorts of general strategies that a company might employ such as expanding into new countries or new markets.

Argos' strategy today is one of growth. Growth can be achieved in a number of ways such as opening new stores, increasing the product range, expanding the website or increasing the value and volume of sales. Argos' strategy involves driving frequency and maintaining the loyalty of existing customers.

There is a significant amount of customers who buy infrequently from Argos. Argos classifies this group as the 'Don't quite get its'. Advertising on television and through other media is an important way of attracting this audience. Through advertising the 'Don't quite get its' are able to appreciate the range that Argos offers, and the value for money of the offer. For example, at Christmas time Argos adverts illustrate the way that a shopper can buy all of their presents through the Argos catalogue.

In comparison large numbers of people regularly shop at Argos - these are the 'Get its'. Argos' approach with this segment of the market is to increase the amount they spend in every purchase.

  • Argos has introduced an ever-expanding product range especially since its Home Delivery Service was introduced.
  • Argos has focused on convenience for customers. Research showed that customers regard speed to be the top criterion when choosing to shop from Argos.

Growth therefore comes from driving frequency of purchase, and increasing the expenditure per customer on Argos products.

 Harnessing technology to meet customer needs

Many consumers today are cash-rich but time-poor. Fortunately most people (particularly the young) have high levels of competence when it comes to using modern technologies such as mobile phones and computers. Argos therefore uses a variety of modern channels to communicate with customers and to provide them with avenues for enquiring about availability of stock, and for making purchases.

Many customers like to browse the Argos catalogue in the comfort of their own home. A large proportion of orders are still made in store, but an increasing proportion are being made online and by telephone.

There are a number of channels for receiving goods including collection from the store and using the home delivery service. In line with the development of new technologies and market research.  Argos has also introduced new innovations such as text and take home and Quick Pay kiosks.

 Conclusion

Argos' unique shopping experience is popular and successful because it is focused around meeting customer needs. Argos has gained competitive advantage over rivals by differentiating itself on the basis of providing the best value for money for customers through the most convenient shopping experience. The market has been carefully segmented according to the way in which customers use the stores to make purchases.

Argos' strategy is to continue to grow through attracting new customers while rewarding existing customers for their loyalty. By embracing new technologies in a busy world, Argos continues to provide the channels that are most appropriate to the modern retailing experience.

Argos' turnover continues to grow, so that, for example, turnover was £1,552m in the six months to the end of September 2004 compared with £1,377 in the same period in 2003. The larger part of this growth came from new stores, but there was also a significant increase in sales from existing stores at a time when other retailers were struggling.

Argos | Identifying customers and meeting their needs