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Doing Consumer Research: A Resource Guide

Consumer research involves finding data on consumer behaviors or preferences, in order to establish a target market segment for products or services. This guide provides links to a wide variety of useful resources for your research.

Introduction

John Vachon, photographer. Houston, Texas. Shoppers. 1943. Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Consumer research is done with the intention of understanding the needs or behaviors of a particular group in order to define who to best market a product or service to, also known as identifying a target market.

Customer segments can be grouped by different variables, such as demographic, geographic, psychographic (values and lifestyle), or behavioral. This guide specifically focuses on resources useful for the business to consumer (B2C) industry, where individuals are the end users of a product or service. While this guide does not cover every resource, it does highlight commonly used sources and publishers of population and consumer data.

“There is only one winning strategy. It is to carefully define the target market and direct a superior offering to that target market.” - Philip Kotler, "Father of Modern Marketing"1

Consumer attitudes, values, habits, and preferences are often collected via interviews, surveys, and focus groups. Businesses also collect data about their customers and sales in order to make decisions about pricing, inventory, and advertising. As technology becomes more ubiquitous, the amount, speed and type of data collected by businesses and third parties has increased. This flood of information, also known as big data, is tracked, analyzed and used for business intelligence. However, there are major concerns from consumers' rights and privacy rights groups as to what information is collected, how it is obtained, what is done with the information, such as if it is shared with other organizations, and how transparent the data collection is to the consumer.

To find statistics on a specific topic or consumer group:

  • Brainstorm who might collect the information, such as government agencies, trade organizations, academic researchers, or market research firms
  • Consider broader variables or broader markets, especially in search terms (for example "gender" instead of "women")
  • Recognize that while some data is free to access, others may require a one-time or subscription fee. The Library subscribes to many resources, which are available on-site; for other sources, check with your local public or university library. Look for freely available press releases, articles or abstracts that will summarize findings from a market research report.
  • Search books and journal articles, which include statistics in the introduction to a topic or original research on consumer behavior; track any citations for further leads on data sources.

You may be interested in extremely niche information that is not collected or published by an existing source. In that case, you would need to conduct your own market research; resources on conducting primary market research or identifying firms that specialize in primary market research are included in this guide.

Notes

  1. Philip Kotler, interview, The Events & Awards Managers of Asia and Hamlin-Iturralde Corporation, 1999. As cited in QFinance: The Ultimate Resource (Bloomberg, 2014). Back to text