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Market Research: Thin-Slice Your Way to the Top - The Business Advisor

Market Research: Thin-Slice Your Way to the Top

The Philippine retail landscape is tough. Gone are the days when consumers would have to trek to specific malls in busy metropolises. There are now malls everywhere, and thousands of stores to boot. For convenience, online shopping is the way to go, considering the state of traffic around the metro. With the retail industry entering new frontiers in the digital sphere, brands now have a harder time than ever standing out from the discerning crowd.

As the Chief Executive Officer of CBRE Asia Pacific Rick Santos stated, “The retail market in the Philippines is, and still continues to, mature. Filipinos are now after the overall retail experience, choosing malls and outlets that give them the power of choice—whether in food and beverage or clothing and the like.”

In the gamut of noise, it is no longer enough to provide a good retail experience. To truly make a good impression, brands must have an amazing presence at every stage of the customer journey: whether online or off of it. And one effective way to do so is to provide what they want—even before they know they want it.

The art of thin-slicing

In Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal 2008 book, Blink, he discussed the phenomenon of thin-slicing to explain the importance of first impressions. It is defined as the “ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.”

Put differently, it is the human inclination to perform snap, accurate judgments despite limited data. From the accurate prediction of lasting marriages to the identification of forged art, thin-slicing is the phenomenon of driving a lot of our decision-making—sometimes without us even knowing.

As marketers and retail leaders, managers very well understand the implications of such fast and frugal decisions. With the intense retail competition at stake, consumers frequently make irrational yet valid purchasing decisions based on a handful of factors they were not even aware they were considering.

From deciding not to buy from a site because it seems too cluttered to staying longer in a shop because the music is nice, hundreds of components can influence the overall decision of a customer in the fraction of a second.

From a business standpoint, this scenario spells two opportunities for the ambitious retailer: one, it provides plenty of chances to continuously improve the retail experience; and two, it opens up a wealth of data about consumer behavior.

Since thin-slicing has such a strong impact on customer decisions, utilizing it as a strategy to understand customers could be just as effective in convincing them to buy.

The question is: How?

With limited resources, how can retail brands use limited market research, so they can accurately predict what the consumer would want? Instead of leveraging market research companies, are there market research tools available instead that could be just as effective?

Surveying shoppers and salespersons

Luckily, technology can now play a helpful factor in this search. In the Philippine market alone, several retail brands have learned to adopt shorthand strategies that yield meaningful insights.

In the casual dining scene, the Bistro Group has learned to utilize thin-slicing to their advantage: Dine in most of their branches—from TGI Friday’s to Italianni’s—and you will experience a quick yet incentivized push from your server to answer a survey.

Through mobile marketing, these surveys capture short yet sweet feedback from customers with the promise of dessert. Even without spending thousands on expensive market data, Bistro Group’s retail and marketing managers can already get a sense-check of how the market feels—from their food to their service.

With the aid of real-time technology, they can adjust their strategy accordingly and speedily. Given their continuous expansion plans up to this date, it seems that this strategy is working for the casual dining group.

Another great example of using a narrow amount of data to make accurate, powerful predictions is the well-known practices of Zara. Currently considered as one of the largest (billion-dollar) fashion brands in the world, the Spanish-based apparel behemoth has an unusual yet effective strategy when it comes to being faster than the market.

As the famous story goes, in 2015, a shopper named Miko in Tokyo entered Zara asking the store assistant for a pink scarf. At almost the exact same time, Michelle in Toronto, Elaine in San Francisco, and Giselle in Frankfurt all asked for a pink scarf—but sadly, to no avail.

Given Zara’s strategy of consistently asking store managers what customers liked, did not like, and looked for, they were able to string together small, simple bursts of in-store experiences across disjointed countries into a single, powerful insight: Zara fans wanted pink scarves, and they wanted them now.

Seven days later, over 2,000 Zara stores around the world started selling pink scarves, and in three days, all 500,000 pink scarves were sold out. Clearly, coupling the stellar operational efficiency that Zara is known for with the effective utility of thin-slicing proves a winning combination for the brand. Zara’s case is a prime example of how market research analysts need not have complex data to be accurate in helping the bottom line.

Utilizing Blink principles in your store

Luckily, many retail brands can utilize these effective strategies in their own stores. With the help of GoCanvas, managers can effectively create customized forms that gather data in the cloud. With carefully thought-out questions, salespeople and shoppers alike can be incentivized to answer simple surveys that provide real-time data. Ranging from customer service to product feedback, retailers and marketers can work together to produce meaningful questions tailored to provide powerful, thin-slice insights with the push of a button.

Whatever your industry is, marrying technology with the principles of psychology will always provide exponential results to retailers and managers alike. And at Globe Business, we are excited to see where your journey leads to next.

Interested to learn more about our products and solutions? Arrange a consultation with a Globe Business Advisor today.


Abad, Roderick. "Bistro Group to Open More Foreign Restaurants in PHL." BusinessMirror. Last modified June 30, 2015.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. New York: Back Bay Books, 2013.

Hari, Jürg, Stros, Michael, and Marriott, John. "The 30-Second-Sale: Snap Impressions of a Retail Sales Person Influence Consumers Decision Making." Anspruchsgruppenorientierte Kommunikation: 53-66. doi:10.1007/978-3-531-91204-2_4.

Ifould, Rosie. "Acting on Impulse: The Science behind First Impressions." The Guardian. Last modified March 7, 2009.

Roll, Martin. "The Secret of Zara's Success: A Culture of Customer Co-creation." Martin Roll: Business & Brand Leadership. Last modified March 20, 2018.

"How First Impressions Work & Why They're Important." ScreenCloud. Accessed January 8, 2018.