As a business owner, you probably have a good sense of your customers’ needs and wants, but there is always the possibility that your own personal views and preferences influence what goods and services you offer. What better way to assist in product selection than to directly as consumers? Surveys and focus groups can serve ask the basis for the future direction of your retail outlet and can be conducted in the store and online. For more information on how to develop survey questions and conduct focus groups, visit the Penn State Farm Business website at: http://extension.psu.edu/farm-business/announcements/articles.
Focus groups usually involve a smaller number of consumers (usually, eight to 12) and are simply an in-depth conversation about a particular set of topics. By only including a limited number of participants, it is very likely that you will get each and everyone’s input, but the data should not be used as the only source for making business decisions. Rather, focus groups can be thought of as a starting point for selecting products, making future business decisions, and for selecting questions that can be included in additional surveys.
Focus groups can be conducted online using tools such as Google Groups (http://www.google.com/grphp?hl=en) or Yahoo! Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com/). Both can be used to create a group and invite others to join and read and post messages. Additional features for both tools allow users to read and post messages online or view and respond to messages that are sent to their email addresses.
Several online survey programs are available for free, with limited functions, but the full versions can also be purchased on an annual basis. Tools such as SurveyMonkey.com, Zoomerang.com, and SurveyGizmo.com allow users to:
• create surveys,
• send links to the survey in emails or incorporate the link into a webpage
• provide some analysis, and
• download the data in either report form or as an excel document.
Similarly, explore Google Docs Forms which can be designed to look like a survey and imbedded in an email that you send to potential participants. Once received, the recipient can respond to the questions and click the “submit” button when finished. You will then have access to a spreadsheet where responses are organized by survey participant.