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Retail Donna has over 40 years in customer service and retail environment, and has operated and marketed her own businesses for 25 years. Donna's workshops and seminars on everything from communication techniques to learning styles have been well received, as have her articles and blog posts. Several of her pieces have made the first page of browsers.

How To Do A Needs Assessment For Your Product

How To Do A Needs Assessment For Your Product

Small business owners are beginning to see an increase in traffic into their stores. This slow growth is partly based on the fact that the vaunted Amazon has proven to promote its own store over individually owned stores that contract with it. The fact is, while individuals do the majority of their shopping on their handheld devices, they still want to see the items in person. The weight, texture, feel, and scent of any product are the final selling point for many consumers. Owners of specialty shops and small retail stores can seize the advantage, here, by determining the need for each of their products. A needs assessment for your product can also collect valuable information. With a needs assessment, you can determine the interest in your particular product, which is essential for specialty shops. You can also determine more accurately the flow of merchandise.

What is a Needs Assessment?

A needs assessment is a process by which you can determine the needs and interests of your target consumers. This type of assessment will help you to identify the difference in products and services that are being supplied to your customers. There is usually a gap between what you are supplying and what your customers want. Once you identify these gaps, you can start amending your service or product to close that gap. In many cases, it can lead to an entire new production line.

As your customers perform the needs assessment, they will rank by importance each feature of your business. Some of the features may include:

  • Frequency with which the customer purchases the product
  • Speedy delivery
  • Quality materials
  • Uniqueness of the items or service
  • Membership in an elite group of consumers
  • Collectibles and limited editions

Types of Needs Assessments

When a person thinks of the term “needs assessment,” the mental image is of a survey that is filled out either on the computer or on paper. However, you can conduct a less formal needs assessment.


You can, of course, conduct individual interviews. This is more effective with repeat customers or friends and relatives who do business with you. The interview may be in the form of a discussion about what the individual wants to see in your store.

You may, as a business owner, find the interview to be your preferred means of conducting a needs assessment. You can vary the length of the interview and cover a number of issues.

Observational Studies

Observational studies can yield a great deal of valuable information. The sources to observe may be your annual reports of inventory movement, customer/employee interaction in the store, and data collected on marketing efforts. Whether or not your marketing results in more click-troughs to your website is a good indication of the success of the campaign.

To conduct observational studies on the needs of your customers, all you need is time and note-taking materials. Describe the setting in which the observation is taking place, and record the customer’s activities and the amount of time he or she spends in each area of the store.

Focus Groups

Group interviews may seem to be more formal and somewhat stiff to some people, but it can give you a great overview of what your customers want to see in your product and service. This is especially helpful when developing a new product.

To form a focus group, select individuals who have something in common. If you are looking for differing opinions, create a second group for the dissenting ideas.


The survey is the more traditional method of getting written input from a group of people. Each person receives a print version or goes online to fill out a form. There is usually little room for “gray area” answers, since the scoring is very absolute. However, you can include a comment section where interviewees can add their personal thoughts.

Use the Data

Once you have gathered data, put each bit into one of two groups:

  • People
  • Things

Data Concerning People

Group all of your data collected on people. Group them according to characteristics, such as age, gender, frequency of purchase, whether they come in the store or purchase online.

Basically, personas are any characteristics that can be notated. Every customer may be in several different groups. This helps you develop services and products that will resonate with each group, increasing profits.

In dealing with people as a result of your needs assessment, you can additionally look for:

  • Your customers’ aspirations
  • Your customer’s motivations
  • Ways in which you will facilitate meeting customer needs

Data Concerning Things

Data concerning things in your business can cover everything from the layout of your store to shipping practices. Categorize each of the factors that affect customer supply and service. Each factor may fit into more than one category. Then, develop a plan to improve each of these categories.

For customers, you may need to:

  • Switch shipping companies due to overpricing or frequent failure
  • Change the layout of your store
  • Provide a more focused or, on the other hand, more varied selections
  • Anticipate seasonal or topical interests (holidays, sports, etc.)

You may find that you will better serve customers by enabling employees to do their jobs more efficiently. For your employees, you can consider:

  • Working and modern technology (POS, inventory systems, etc.)
  • Space requirements are met
  • Lighting needs are met
  • Security is adequate and controlled

There are, of course, many more issues that can be addressed with a needs assessment. You will, undoubtedly, encounter issues you never considered. The value here is that you can recover lost customers, keep customers happy, and retain good employees, all while running a more profitable business.

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