Factsheet Surveying Local Retail Customers
Why conduct a survey of local retail customers?
The changing retail structure of many communities is slowly diminishing the
role of their downtown. Although residents want to maintain their traditional
downtown, they also want access to a large variety of consumer goods. A survey
of shopping patterns and consumer attitudes will produce reliable data that can
be translated into valuable information for local community and economic
initiatives. The survey of local retail customers should:
- Assess local residents' attitudes and preferences for retail activity in
- Identify needs for retail and other services.
- Help define goals for future commercial development or downtown improvement
- Evaluate existing programs, activities, resources or new opportunities
How do we conduct a survey of local retail customers?
Once you have decided to undertake a survey of local retail customers,
determine which issues to consider in your questionnaire. The committee,
sponsoring agency or community group which initiates the retail assessment study
should have a broad membership to ensure that various interests are addressed.
The Laboratory for Community and Economic Development (LCED) provides a series
of questions created to evaluate customer attitudes and local shopping
patterns. Use these questions to design your community survey. It is not
necessary to use every question listed, but rather select a few that will
provide the information you need.
Who should we survey?
Survey residents who live in your community, in nearby rural areas and in
communities from which you wish to attract retail customers. A radius of
approximately 50 miles from your community can be a realistic area from which to
select your sample.
How many residents should we survey?
For many rural communities, a sample of 400 households is sufficient. If
you want to compare responses between residents who live in different locations
or respondents of different age group, then the sample must include an adequate
number from each subgroup. Usually, 150 completed surveys from each subgroup
are enough. Determining the sample size is not easy. If you need assistance
with sampling, get in touch with LCED.
Good information requires an adequate response rate. One cannot compensate
for a low response rate by starting with a larger sample or adding to the
original sample once it becomes evident that the return rate is inadequate. A
low response rate from a large sample is as unacceptable as a low response rate
from a small sample. While there is no magic number that represents a good
response rate, usually any response rate greater than 60% is acceptable.
How do we select a sample?
The best way to select a sample is to first identify a list that includes
all households within the radius of the area you want to survey. It is
difficult to find the ideal list, one which includes every household in your
study area. A list of addresses from telephone directories excludes residents
without telephones, those with unlisted telephone numbers and new residents who
are not yet listed in the directory. A telephone directory on a CD ROM,
however, provides an easy way to download names and addresses. A list of
subscribers to a utility is biased for residents who live in apartments, senior
citizen homes or any unit that does not get directly charged by that utility.
Often, the utility company will offer to mail out the survey with their billing
statement. Select the source for your list of households that minimizes bias
and allows you to easily select a random sample of names.
How do we distribute the surveys?
One successful technique is the drop-off survey, where volunteers deliver
the surveys to households. Respondents complete the questionnaires on their own
and then either return them by mail or leave them for pick-up by volunteers.
This method usually yields a very good response rate.
What are the benefits of conducting a survey of local retail
A systematic, community-wide assessment of local shopping behavior is a
vital part of communityand economic development. A good survey will provide
accurate, timely information and a firm foundation for creating a conscious
strategy for community development projects. This type of survey will:
- Position the community development group as a dynamic organization that is
taking action to foster community and economic development.
- Help the community development group establish priorities for commercial
- Demonstrate the community development group's commitment to listen to local
- Provide information for planning activities and for applications for grants
and other development programs.
Getting Help from the Laboratory for Community and Economic
Staff at the Laboratory for Community and Economic Development at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign can provide you with technical
support in sample selection, survey design, data tabulation and analysis. For
more information contact your local University of Illinois Cooperative Extension
Service Unit or Julie Fesenmaier at the Laboratory for Community and Economic