Why Surveys Don’t Work in Brick & Mortar Retail

Retail_Shops.jpgOver the past few decades, restaurant and retail chains have struggled to easily collect voice of the customer (VOC) data — starting way back with the paper comment cards that customers would fill out, to the automated phone surveys in which customers talk to a boring robot asking questions over a 10-minute stretch.

The current trend over the past few years has been collecting customer feedback via digital long-form surveys, with a strong emphasis on mobile. Yes, this innovation has brought small increases in response rates for retail chains, but VOC response rates are still an issue the retail and restaurant industries must address.

For every customer who complains to a business, 26 other customers don’t voice their feelings, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs (via Help Scout). That means you only hear from roughly 4% of all your dissatisfied customers. Only 4%! The cause of the low response rates that restaurant and retail establishments face stems from the ways they are attempting to collect customer feedback.

Surveys Don’t Work

Depending on the industry, surveys can be a super great way to collect quantitative feedback.

For years, I helped some of the world's largest companies including eBay, EA, and Salesforce collect data through long-form digital surveys. No matter the study I worked on, one of the main things we were always trying to improve was our response rates.

How do we optimize the email invite? How do we increase our incidence? What type of incentive do we offer? These were questions we always asked ourselves while combating against low response rates. However, we always found a way to make response rates manageable.

However, it wasn’t until I founded Benchmark Intelligence and worked in the retail and restaurant industry did I realize getting people to take surveys in a brick & mortar setting is logarithmically more difficult than getting people to open an email and click a survey link.

There is a bunch of friction that customers must go through to take a survey in a brick & mortar setting. If the survey is administered via a robot on the phone, the customer must have 5 to 10 minutes available where they can afford to talk to a robot. The majority of the time, these surveys are almost as painful as trying to navigate through a customer service phone tree.

If the surveys are administered through a digital survey, you face the pain point of getting the consumer to the survey itself. Often, the survey URL is printed on the back of receipts, and the consumer must enter the survey URL into their phone or computer. Even though this may seem like a small ask for the consumer, it’s a huge deterrent, and this friction will cause the majority of your customers not even to attempt the survey.

For the consumers that do get to the survey, the majority will drop out, actually, 80% of them to be exact, according to Forbes. More than half (52%) of consumers say they will not take a survey that’s over 3 minutes, so why do the majority of retailers attempt to push these 5-10 minute surveys down their customers’ throats?

Impact of Social Media

With the creation of review sites such as Yelp and Foursquare, there has been a paradigm shift in how retail collects customer feedback. Ever since the creation of Yelp, everyone is a food critic, and everyone’s opinion can affect your bottom line. However, it’s something you have to combat against and can’t simply ignore.

According to a Berkeley report, the average Yelp rating has a big impact on a restaurant’s chances of selling out during prime dining times. This means it’s in your best interest to keep as much negative feedback off Yelp and other sites as much as possible. Yelp reviews have a direct impact on revenue and can hurt you.

Consumers would much rather share their opinion directly with a brand than on social media. Nearly 75% said that, following a bad experience, they would first tell the company itself using email, phone, or feedback, according to Forbes. However, the majority of that 75% must resort to Yelp because it’s a lot easier to leave a review than take a survey.

Plus, much of the data you receive from Yelp and other social media sites is just noise and often fake noise. According to 2013 study by Harvard Business School, roughly 16% of Yelp reviews are fake, and these fake reviews hurt businesses.


The solution to the problem is finding a way to collect customer feedback that is easier than leaving a review online and curbs against getting bad reviews which have a direct impact on your revenue. We’ve already established the solution isn’t surveys, as their long-form format are making your customers suffer.

What social media sites proved is that customers would rather leave short-form comments about their experiences rather than take long-form surveys. Also, this short-form style of feedback eliminates a lot of the biases that surveys create.

Benchmark Intelligence has created a way to collect customer feedback, a medium most customers are comfortable and proficient with. Benchmark assigns each location in your chain with a unique number that can be displayed on receipts or put on in-store signage. Customers send in text messages about their experience and every customer comment received is then analyzed by IBM Watson supercomputer technology to recognize the trends your customers are talking about.

Regardless if you use Benchmark SMS capabilities or some other solution, the main point I’m doing my best to drive home is that surveys don’t work in the brick & mortar setting. Find an easier way to collect feedback that doesn’t take over 60 seconds to do and doesn’t make your customer suffer.

Find out what performance issues your customers are talking about. We’ve learned firsthand that you can make some powerful operational changes based off customer intelligence.

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Eric_Santos._85px.jpgAbout the Author: Eric Santos is the CEO of Benchmark Intelligence, software that helps retail chains understand why certain locations perform better than others. Eric is a market research veteran and has helped brands like eBay, Salesforce, and LinkedIn capture insights. 

Topics: Market Research Strategy Retail