Say hello to consumers and goodbye to mistakes that translate into markdown money.

That’s the promise of a new technology called Products Preferred, which promotes itself as the missing link between vendors and consumers, creating an online focus group to connect vendors with their ultimate customer.

It works like this: For about $50,000 and for two or three weeks, WDA BrandMarketing Solutions develops a consumer database of brand-loyal shoppers for a client, and then polls 500 to 600 randomly chosen consumers online from their homes with a 10-minute survey that ranks preferences for everything from color to style to price elasticity — all this before the first sample is ever made.

After the database is established, each season runs around $30,000 for about a dozen stockkeeping units and takes two or three days. For a year, the process could cost about $125,000.

“If you could reduce liability every single month — the bigger companies that do eight to 10 deliveries a year — think of what that could do,” said Bill D’Arienzo, chief executive officer of WDA. “If you saved on one mistake, it would more than pay for the process.”

Partnering with the Virginia-based research company Issues & Answers, the Princeton, N.J.-based brand marketing strategist firm specializing in fashion developed the technology last year and now is soliciting clients, particularly targeting better sportswear companies with regular deliveries.

The process has not been run for a paying client yet, but the firm did a post-season study of J.C. Penney several seasons ago. Consumer feedback would have axed an item on which Penney’s lost $267,000 in markdowns on that style alone, “plus how a bad style adversely impacts how the consumer perceives the brand — a qualitative immeasurable,” said D’Arienzo.

For new clients — which WDA is limiting to five for the first go — spring could be retroactively traced as with the Penney’s example, or it could do a forward-looking run starting for resort.

D’Arienzo hopes the quantitative feedback from consumers will answer qualitative fashion questions.

“You have something objective rather than a battle of wills,” he said. “You have the final arbiter: the consumer, an objective third party who has nothing to gain or lose by giving their opinions.”

This story first appeared in the January 17, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Consumers will have some incentive to participate, possibly a 10 percent discount when items from the lines they review hit the floor.

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