It’s About Data, Not Demographics: How food operators can take the personalised approach to understanding their customer

Technology has transformed drastically since Future Food first set out on a mission to create customer-centric food precincts. Back then, we had access to large chunks of information explaining demographic groups such age, sex and ethnicity that would assist us in creating hospitality spaces designed for our project’s identified users. The same can be said for quick service operators and other food outlets inside these precincts who would create a concept based on these demographics. Demographics were the starting point however, nowadays as people become more connected and groups become less defined, demographics may not be the most useful tool to go off anymore. 

Millennials are the population group we all have our eye on with Gen Y and Gen Z not far behind. These groups have some key similarities when it comes to what they are looking for and those include wellness, transparency, social impact, and experience. In fact, according to market research conducted by Deloitte 52% of these consumers would prefer to spend at businesses that support these values rather than consider price and convenience. Interestingly enough, this preference is spreading upwards with those aged 35-49 also seeking to spend at outlets with these values. This shows that demographically, it’s not as certain that the groups are entirely different and there is nothing to say that a baby boomer won't want to spend at a Millennial-focussed outlet. The lines between traditional demographic groups are being blurred and we need to start focussing more on customer spending, behaviour, preference and visitation patterns. 

Nowadays, with technology enhancements and the tech-savvy population groups in the spending seat, we have access to a much more refined dataset. One that can be collected daily, updated continuously and analysed to understand exactly who the customer is we are working with and what they want. For food operators, particularly the smaller businesses looking to break into the competition, this data is invaluable in creating a successful outlet that attracts their desired customer and continues to well into the future. This is because the data is personal, it comes straight from the individual customer to the business and is not just a generalist view that demographic data provides. Personal data is what allows strategic marketing, menu developments, pricing and much more to be set and to give the customer their most authentic and individual experience. 

So how do you collect these real-time metrics on what your customers are spending on and how often they are visiting? Social media, point of sale, customer relationship management systems (CRM) and other sources can be used to weave together a very important dataset on customer behaviour and customer spend. Whilst demographics are a good starting point, the customer-specific data set on spend and behaviour is what will allow businesses to track their customers and more accurately predict into the future without being bound to specific demographic groups. It also allows operators to get to know their customer on a very personal level which for Millennials onwards is key to winning their business. 

Starbucks' strategic customer app which collects and tracks consumer data in real time  image via Tech Crunch

Starbucks' strategic customer app which collects and tracks consumer data in real time image via Tech Crunch

An example of data-driven success comes from Starbucks who collects data via their mobile purchase app which has over 17 million active users and attracts 7 million purchase a month. All of the data collected via the app goes into a strategic and targeted marketing effort that offers people location-specific, spend-specific and preference-specific product advertisements and rewards. It does not get more personal than that.

Even major retail centre operator, Westfield is looking to data to drive their centre transformations. According to Westfield UK’s CIO, Matt Sharpe, the company is aiming to understand real-time traffic flows including time spent in the centre, the number of previous visits and a myriad of other information that is geared towards improving the customer experience. This is an important part of keeping up with digital retail which has understood a person’s shopping history and buying preferences at the onset and therefore can deliver a tailored online shopping experience. It is this tailored experience that customers have become accustomed to and therefore, brick-and-mortar retail as well as the food and hospitality industry need to match. 

How are you collecting and using real-time customer data? 


Credit- cover image via Westfield of Westfield World Trade Centre