Knowing your customer so that you can achieve what is known as product market fit involves a lot of analysis, both qualitative and quantitative. This is super important because ultimately to stay in business and live our dream, we need to sell stuff that people actually want. We need to identify who our people are, what they want, and how much they are willing to spend.
For us this involves a balance of hypothesis testing and customer listening. We (mostly Mike) hypothesize on just about everything from what text to include in ads or what color the “add to cart” button will result in more conversions. We (mostly Brittany) also use surveys, are active in affinity groups, and just straight up talk to people and ask them what is important to them and how they prioritize purchases for their children.
Most companies keep a tight lid on this research because any data they have that competition does not is a competitive advantage. We think there are plenty of toy buyers to go around though and believe more in collaboration and transparency so below are the results of our most recent customer survey.
This February we combined both brains and ran what we call a customer listening survey. We asked 50 people (and gave away $150.00 to one lucky participant) how they shopped and what was important to them. We targeted mostly Boulder and Northern Colorado caregivers as well as existing subscribers. We do not have great demographic data on our participants, but we did specifically target our neighbors because we wanted to test a hypothesis on a local level.
This anecdotal hypothesis based on activity in local Facebook groups was that people value shopping local and supporting small business owners. With this in mind we were hoping people would share their values with us and let us know just how they shop for their kiddos. Read along for the results, noting this is our first ever survey so we’re hoping to learn both from our approach as well as our results. For marketing nerds, we’d love your feedback on how we went about this endeavor.
Give the people what they want!
Our first surprise came from one of the open ended questions asking people what they would expect more of. The overwhelming response was that we don’t stock enough clothing!
We have taken note and will be researching new partnerships!
How toy buying gets done
Another thing we wanted to know was how people actually shop for toys so we asked users to complete the following: “When buying toys for my own children or gifts for other children…” We probably provided too many options, but as expected, most people either are price sensitive or shop Amazon because there’s a trust and convenience factor.
We kind of think Amazon is the evil empire. If you wonder why most of our toys cannot be found on Amazon, it’s because Amazon kills small businesses like ours. It is tough to scale a business and adhere to the pricing pressures of Amazon in a socially responsible manner so a lot of the brands we’ve researched and partnered with just aren’t there. We also intentionally avoid competing with Amazon because for most of our customers, if they can find the same thing cheaper with faster delivery and an air tight return policy, why would they shop us over Amazon?
What’s important to you, anyway?
We are a super crunchy, outdoor loving family of 6. We put extreme limits on screen time including TV and computer. There are no gaming consoles in our house. We do not watch movies. We’re strange. We get it. But how strange are we?
When we buy just about anything, we try our best to buy small and local, support diversity, and be eco-friendly. We ain’t rich so price is important, but it’s not the most important thing for us. Since we have 4 kids, we shop for durable toys that are more timeless. We wondered though, is that normal? Also, we wondered how much of toy buying is tied to the characters that kids read about in books or watch on TV? All this wondering… so we asked… When asked to choose only one most important factor, this is what you told us:
It turns out, we’re not strange, nobody is. People cared about just about everything equally, except almost everyone valued something higher than supporting local or woman owned. This debunks our theory! That’s cool though, we are environmentally friendly AND woman owned. Tell your friends!
Finally we wanted to know if people who were likely to feel one way also felt another. Below are a few results:
Amazon, that Evil Empire again
The first thing we wondered was if people who are really into character toys are more likely to be our Amazon shoppers. Our question was a ranking scale of how important character toys are to buying decisions. A 5 means character toys are what our buyer is looking for. A 1 means they prioritize other things.
We found two things:
- People either buy character toys or they don’t.
- Everyone shops on Amazon. There doesn’t seem to be any correlation between whether someone shops on Amazon or not compared to what type of toy they are looking for. Damn it, Amazon.
Here we looked at how many people buy local vs Amazon compared to how much they value buying eco-friendly. Again, we found that almost everyone buys stuff on Amazon. The first chart does show us, however, that shopping eco-friendly is not often a top priority generally. This doesn’t mean it’s not important, it’s just not the most important factor when shopping.
The second chart is more telling, however. Those who shop local (whether they also shop Amazon or not) tend to value being eco-friendly more than those who don’t, relatively speaking.
Our final observation was that people who put a higher value on eco-friendly toys tend to put a lower value on trying to find toys that look like a familiar character that their kiddos like. This one was kind of unexpected. We don’t sell character toys because they don’t tend to be sold by small businesses or businesses that prioritize the environment or the social good. We do target toys (and clothing, we hear you) that were responsibly produced. This bit of feedback was a nice little nugget to let us know that we are stocking in a way that aligns with those who have shared values
OK first off, we get it. We will stock more clothing.
We were a little surprised that people didn’t value shopping small business or being woman owned higher. We asked these questions a few different ways. People usually said shopping small/local/woman owned was important, but when forced to rank against price and convenience, shopping small always came in at least third.
We did feel validated by the importance placed on shopping eco-friendly. Living in the front range and having to play inside due to air quality issues, seeing the devastation from fires, and seeing our ski season shortened by 20% over the last 20 years really puts the environment into perspective for us. Mother nature needs our help and we’re happy that there seem to be enough folks out there who share our values.
What, no Montessori?
One thing that came up sparsely and less than expected in our open ended questions was anything about specific early childhood development or learning methods. Brittany is an expert in this area so all of our toys are vetted against development theories that inspire our own approach to parenting. That said, of the 50 responses and hand full of open ended questions, only two people mentioned the Montessori method. Nobody mentioned Waldorf, open ended play, anything about home schooling, etc.
Since what we stock mirrors what we believe in, we’ll continue to focus on the educational and developmental merits of everything. Because it’s what I do, I hypothesize that this didn’t come up because of how we asked the questions, not because of any unexpected lack of emphasis during the toy buying experience. We’ll have to test the hypothesis another way or with another survey though.
As a result of this survey our values really haven’t changed. We do have the clothing take-away and will adjust there, but otherwise, our approach and what we stock will generally stay on track. We still want to support small and minority owned businesses. We want to empower women to realize their entrepreneurial dreams. Doing so may not be the reason people come to our store, but we won’t lose customers for doing so either so it’s still the right thing for us to do.
Above all else, we want to try our best to leave a planet for our children and our children’s children in a livable condition. We’re passionate about our kids future and about early childhood development generally and hope that the toys, clothing, and accessories that we carry will help support others with the same ideals.