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Field Reports

1 Sep, 2005 By: Thomas Haire, Nicole Urso Reed, Doug Garnett Response





ERA Research Needs Insight That Leads to Action


By Doug Garnett

Carla Roberts may be the DRTV industry's most perceptive market researcher. Certainly, I think she's the best, with more than 25 years in general advertising — including 12 years in DRTV. So, on a recent research tour, Carla and I discussed the Electronic Retailing Association's (ERA) May 2005 Buyer Study.

"It's great that the ERA continues to pursue research projects, and I appreciate the hard work that went into this study," Roberts says, "but I expected more. While it provides good information, there appear to be missed opportunities and some flaws. The study doesn't offer enough data that could lead to actionable next steps. Research isn't just about 'learning' — it's about taking action."


The Study


The biggest challenge in understanding this study is that its flaws are not obvious. In fact, the statistics appear quite accurate except for certain sub-populations where very small numbers of interviews were conducted.

"Unfortunately," observes Roberts, "a copy of the questionnaire published with the report would be essential. Research reports should include the survey so we can interpret the findings."

Regardless, the flaws can be seen by considering three well-publicized conclusions.


The Findings


The study concludes that the percentage of the population who purchase electronically is decreasing. But, this conclusion is contradicted in the introduction, which states that data can only be reported among electronic purchasers and cannot be extended to the U.S. population.

The study also concludes that people buy from TV primarily because of convenience. Interestingly, the primary disadvantages associated with buying from TV are all inconveniences. This appears contradictory. But what this data suggests to us is that the term "convenience" is too broad and it can mean many different things to different people. Thus, the apparent contradiction on these findings appears to come from limitations in the survey design.

Finally, there is a conclusion that TV buyers are primarily impulse buyers. This finding has even been reported in TV Guide. Roberts notes that other data in the study suggests that this finding is wrong. "ERA reports that most TV purchasers watch commercials several times before they purchase. That is not impulse purchase behavior," she says. Prior research published in the Journal of Advertising Research also concludes that TV purchases are not impulse purchases.

What went wrong? There appears to be an error in the report. The written findings say one thing but the tables and graphs on the same pages show the opposite.


The Research Our DRTV Industry Needs


This study covers a range of areas — DRTV, shopping channels, online purchasers and DR radio — but Roberts and I focused our discussion primarily on DRTV.

"Quibbling the statistics is only important because our industry needs to learn to recognize these flaws," Roberts contends. "In fact, my biggest concern is that this research doesn't offer data my DRTV clients can use to improve their success."

In fact, valuable research changes the way we do things. Roberts recommends that ERA focus its research in two ways. First, she would like data that would guide efforts to make existing DRTV efforts more profitable.

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