Lots of retailers claim they listen to their customers. Asda, the brand name that Walmart uses in theUnited Kingdom, is following up on that claim by taking the “Pulse of the Nation”—the name it is using for its 18,000-customer focus group. These customers will dictate the products the retailer will carry.

To run its Pulse of the Nation focus group, Asda will send e-mails to each participant with product images and descriptions of potential new products. The customers respond to indicate whether they think the product should be carried in the stores; those that do so automatically enter a drawing for free prizes. Thus, not only do the panelists get to decide what items will appear on store shelves, but they also could win ₤250 gift cards or smaller vouchers for ₤40 or ₤10.

In return for offering such prizes, the retailer gains insight into what customers really want and what they care little about purchasing. The potential benefits for efficient stocking are notable, though Asda also must recognize that even a focus group as large at the Pulse of the Nation represents only a portion of all its customers. Furthermore, as researchers consistently note, customers have an annoying tendency of saying one thing (“I always eat fresh vegetables and fruit!”) but acting differently (purchasing ice cream to satisfy a sweet craving suffered in the store).

Although Asda therefore may need to supplement its focus group market research with some actual historical sales data, at the moment, the retailer is benefiting from the positive perception it has developed among customers, who feel a sense of ownership and power over the products carried in their store.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think of Asda’s move to get customers involved in buying decisions?
  2. What opportunities do you see from online consumer panels for this and other functions?

Joel Warady, “Asda Takes the ‘Pulse of the Nation’,” Retail Wire, July 16, 2009.