Know Your Where & Why: The Value of CAT Surveys

Know Your Where & Why: The Value of CAT Surveys

Columinate | 09-12-2019

Knowing where you draw your business from is a good idea; knowing how you’re performing in your trade area is even better. A Customer Address and Transaction (CAT) survey accomplishes both, giving you a valuable snapshot to inform marketing focus. It’s a straightforward analysis worth returning to time and time again.

“The CAT survey is particularly useful for generating more sales without spending a lot of money investing in your store,” said location research consultant Debbie Suassuna. “The survey allows you to find out where you’re underperforming and target those areas with stronger marketing efforts.” Suassuna has more than two decades of location research and site analyses under her belt, including hundreds of CAT surveys for co-ops over the past 13 years. What she’s learned is that the right time to conduct the survey is now, but the key is consistency: re-issue the survey every few years to stay tuned-in to your market. Here’s the rundown.

How it works

Conducting a CAT survey is as simple as asking customers — typically 700 – 1,000 of them — where they live and how much they spent. From that information, consultants like Suassuna can produce a detailed report defining your store’s trade area and evaluating your performance in its different parts, called sectors.

Why it matters

CAT surveys reveal whether there are any barriers, geographic or man-made, restricting sales in certain sectors; the impact of a particular competitor or potential competitor; and where in your trade area you’re over and underperforming. You can target-market areas where you’re underperforming, and knowing where you’re overperforming might inform decisions about relocating or opening future stores.

There’s an expanded version of the CAT survey, too. “We ask where the customer came from before arriving at the co-op and what they were doing,” Suassuna explained. “Were they home? Shopping? Working? Then we ask where they’re going when they leave the co-op. This is helpful particularly for stores in a downtown or university setting.” Expanded surveys reveal customer segments, such as residents versus workers versus students, as well as the impact of nearby landmarks or shopping districts.

This is not a one-and-done.

Often, a CAT survey is part of the initial market study and then forgotten after a new store opens. Suassuna, however, advocates for returning to the CAT as a handy check-in. “I highly recommend businesses do a CAT every 2 or 3 years to see what’s going on with your trade area and monitor what changes are taking place.” It’s an ingenious approach: build your own, simple market database. “CAT surveys over time allow you to be proactive, instead of reacting to situations. Understanding how your co-op performs today gives you context to focus your efforts, and it also sets a benchmark.”

At the end of the day, you have bigger fish to fry than number-crunching your market segments. CAT surveys are one useful way to operate better so your impact is greater, a simple and enlightening tool that will save your resources for the work that matters most.

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