“The poll shows: companies increasingly count on new sales and distribution channels“– that’s how the E-Commerce agency Satzmedia titled a press release just before Christmas. That’s not surprising, because Twitter, Facebook et al. are after all current hot topics. No wonder companies are increasingly hedging their bets on them. The company states they have “conducted a survey where they now have the results.“ The agency asked visitors to their own booth at the “Mail Order World“ about their experiences with social media.
“81 people from a total of 55 companies have participated in this survey and deliver interesting insights“, believe the survey creators: “90 percent of surveyed people indicated that they are familiar with Facebook, Xing or other social networks. They are primarily used to win so-called fans for themselves or their business. In addition, more than half of the participants love to use blogs and Twitter for customer service and for gaining feedback. All surveyed companies hope to gain closer contact to their customer by participating in social media and over 90 percent want to strengthen existing customer relationships and gain new customers.“
Great numbers – slim results, because the survey does not show at all that companies count on social networks to this extent. After all, only company representatives were being surveyed who deal with mail order business in a professional capacity and came to the trade show booth of a service provider for this very purpose. And even among this group, 81 respondents are not a large control sample.
Studies are often not very representative
This is by no means an isolated case. Many so-called “studies“ or “surveys“ lack the simplest tool of a statistician. Pollsters know: the sample is the most important item. Oftentimes it isn’t truly representative – either because not enough people were being surveyed or because the respondents don’t represent a cross section of the total, the so-called “population“. The result then doesn’t indicate much about “the Germans“, “the companies“ or “the consumers“. It only applies to those who happened to be surveyed.
One can also manipulate the survey by the way the question is asked. This explains why according to surveys the environmental awareness of consumers is very high, but that they don’t choose the most eco-friendly products nearly as often at the stores. Those who favor the German NPD party (National Democratic Party of Germany) don’t like to indicate this to the interviewer of a polling institute, knowing about the party’s social ostracism. Conversely, according to statistics there are more people that love children and animals than there are in reality.
Sometimes the respondents don’t have enough information on the topic and then react carefully and skeptically. This could have been also the case in this survey: “German citizens are skeptical towards mobile payment services with their cell phone“, believes management consulting firm Putz und Partner. Only about every fourth person according to a survey of the company wants this service. “Mobile payment via radio chip in Eurocheque guarantee cards is also only desired by 28 percent. 54 percent entirely disapprove of mobile payments.“ If you would have asked people ten years ago whether they would like to make calls with cell phones, the results would probably have been similar. The main reason for this skepticism according to the survey is “a lack of trust in the safety of this payment method“. 1,000 people were being polled and the result could definitely be representative. But service providers for mobile payments should not get discouraged by this. They learn from it: there still needs to be a lot of awareness training – just like with any new technology.
Surveys by scientists
In contrast, studies by universities are often interesting. But one should also be critical in this case. Who do these researchers work for? Where are their third-party funds coming from? Is this the work of students or well-respected institutes? One important source for multichannel retail is the ECC (E-Commerce Center) at the University of Cologne, Germany, which is organizing the multichannel forum at the EuroCIS 2012. It also works for commercial enterprises.
Just like the GfK marketing research group in Nuremberg, the people in Cologne survey a consumer panel and prepare a monthly analysis on recurring topics. This way, trends are identified during time series. In November the ECC found out in its href="http://www.ecc-shopmonitor.de/">Shopmonitor that the 20 top-selling online shops and shopping portals were not quite able to reproduce the good results in December, after experiencing in parts significant image boosts in November. Christmas sales however were a huge success for online retailers. More and more consumers trust the electronic retailers. In the image ranking of the most popular online shops, Amazon and Esprit continue to reign supreme. Musikhaus Thomann, a music store from Treppendorf near Bamberg that has been around since 1954, has moved up into the Top Ten in November and demonstrates that specialty stores also have a chance for online business, and that Internet retail can even far surpass the brick and mortal business.
Paying plus common sense and gut instinct
Those who want to be at the very top in multichannel business need a keen sense for trends. Studies can assist in complementing gut instinct with numbers, but they cannot replace healthy common sense. You should always ask whether the results are feasible and explicable, whether they are representative or come from a source that wants to boost its own business with the results. More exciting than any survey numbers are sales figures, even better is data on profit and loss, because a large turn-out can especially in E-Commerce also lead to high costs due to returns. But these kinds of numbers usually are not published in newspapers.
René Schellbach, EuroCIS.com