Discount supermarket giant Aldi has sparked fierce shopper competition with a callout for new members for its popular “testers club” and while the popularity of the product trialling program is strong, consumer behaviour and marketing experts say seeking shopper feedback is about more than just giving early access to products.
The Aldi testing program is a year-long ‘membership’ that gives 100 shoppers “significant influence on our product development and selection of what products Aldi stores will stock in the future,” the company explains. Over the past two years, tens of thousands of customers have applied for the opportunity to be sent 10 Aldi items each quarter to review voluntarily.
“We were delighted with their feedback about the quality of Aldi products, and how comparable—if not better—they were to market leading brands,” an Aldi spokesperson told SmartCompany about the program over the past year.
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There’s strong competition for a spot in the “testers club” and while many shoppers are workshopping ways to be included in the program, others have vented frustration online that they’ve previously missed out, or been sceptical that the membership is just more advertising.
“I too have gone through the process of applying to be told thanks but no thanks. I shop at Aldi every week sometimes twice,” one shopper said in Facebook.
“I think it’s just an ad campaign.”
The supermarket, meanwhile, says those involved in the program have been very eager to share their thoughts to the benefit of the company overall.
“While the program is unpaid, members love the opportunity to try out new Aldi products for free,” an Aldi spokesperson said.
Give sneak peeks, but be have a plan for the feedback
Aldi is far from the only business to off “sneak peeks” of new products as a way to connect with customers, although in Australia the model tends to be more around offering loyal shoppers the chance to see a retailer’s offerings before other customers, in the format of previews and VIP nights from brands such as Myer and Blue Illusion.
While a direct appeal to shoppers is common in this format, a feedback model like what’s on display at Aldi needs to be carefully considered, says Bri Williams, a consumer behaviour expert and founder of People Patterns.
“I think it’s a great program, because I think that if people feel they’re part of what’s going on, they’re going to feel invested,” Williams says.
However, Williams says businesses should be careful to outline the terms upon which they seek feedback, and establish expectations so that they know what to do with customer insights, and customers know the potential results of their input.
“You can end up setting up a rod for your own back and losing people. You need to frame people’s expectations and say [your thoughts] are just one input,” she says.
When testing the waters with a new product, it’s worth remembering that what a customer tells you might not necessarily mean you have to rethink an entire product line, Williams says.
“I think it could be good for hypothesis generation, but what people tell you and what they actually do are sometimes two different thinks,” she says.
The world of online retail has a completely different set of challenges for giving people advanced views of products, however, with online homewares business Hunting For George telling SmartCompany the fast-paced nature of their business model means there’s a limited lead time to generate excitement, and the preview process is more about making contact with key media and influencers.
“Ensuring print media, bloggers, stylists and designers have had a sneak peek is our priority, they help generate hype around new launches,” a Hunting For George spokesperson explains.
However, asking customers to act as a sounding board if possible can have significant power when it comes to rallying people around your brand, InsideOut PR director Nicole Reaney says.
“There is a certain demographic of Aldi shoppers [that] are passionate ambassadors about the retailer,” Reaney says.
“This research strategy puts some power back in the hands of consumers, and they enjoy the opportunity to influence the portfolio of products.”
To get a payoff from your product feedback model, the key is to keep the process easy and straightforward, Reaney believes.
“Keep the obligations simple for consumers to participate, ensure there is an incentive and reward them in order for them to be your front line brand team,” she says.