Understanding your market

By the end of this section you will understand the basic principles involved in market research

Your co-operative’s market includes the people, organisations and businesses who are the target customers and/or clients of your business – understanding your market is vital as the success of your co-operative.

Why conduct market research?

Market research answers questions to help inform business decisions. This could range from finding the right location to how best to market your business.

You should consider your target markets when conducting research at any stage of business development. These may include potential customers and clients, funders, commercial stakeholders, collaborators and, crucially in the case of co-operatives, your members.

The below table outlines some important reasons for undertaking market research: 

To test your business idea

  • Is there sufficient demand for the proposed goods or services?
  • How could factors such as location, demography, season or supply chains impact your business?
  • How can you best engage with these markets to drum up business?

To size up the market

  • Who and where are your competitors and what is their market share?
  • What are they offering, how are they performing, and what do you seek to offer that is different or better?
  • What are the standard market prices and are you able to profitably compete with these?

To outline the specifics of your business plan

  • Are there any specific challenges within your proposed sector or locale?
  • Is the current demand stable and likely to continue over time?
  • Are there any statutory or legal requirements you need to undertake before proceeding?
  • It's easy to get too 'close' to a business idea that excites you. Be sure not to any ignore negative  feedback, tweaking or refocusing your business plan at an early stage is more likely to result in success

How to conduct market research?

Market research with little cost or expertise 

The basics of market research can be conducted with little cost or expertise and is, at it’s simplest, a well informed fact finding exercise.

  • Researching the demand for a local café, shop or other service could begin with observing the locale and noting footfall, potential business competitors, and seeking the feedback of potential customers/clients in a veriety of circumstances (time of day, day of the week etc).
  • You could seek the views of relevant groups or contacts via social media for more general feedback. For sector specific knowledge, it may be worth seeking the advice of business associations, similar successful businesses or internet based research into the kinds of issues specific to your co-operative.
  • When researching market competition, it may be possible to appraise competitor prices, services and customer reviews by viewing their websites and social media, or visiting or telephoning them directly.

Specialist or larger-scale market research

For more formal, specialist or large scale market research there are a number of options:

  • Exploring existing datasets – there are free or open source market research resources which may be of use, such as the ONS.
  • Purchasing relevant market reports – large companies such as Nielsen, Euromonitor, Mintel or Datamonitor compile data on consumer good sales at national and international level. 
  • Commissioning bespoke research – there are wide range of research organisations out there who can deliver tailored surveys, focus groups or sector analyses for your business needs. These can be costly, so it’s worth having a very clear brief and objective in mind for these options.
  • [The Market Research Society have advice on reliable and safe procurement of market research, this may be of use here?]
  • [A note on data protection and social media?]

What is co-operative market research?

  • Understanding members and how to manage a co-operative organisation.
  • Working with other co-ops - this is explained more in the Marketing section of The Hive.

Undertake market analysis

Using this Market analysis template:

Work through the following:

  • Identify and describe your prospective 'markets'; Which of these 'markets' will you be relying on to support your social business?
  • How do you know that those markets are big and capable of supporting your social business? How will you engage these markets?
  • Detail any market research you have carried out or are planning to carry out.

​The Market Research Society also has advice on commissioning research, data protection requirements and how to conduct your own market research

The information and tools in this section have been developed by our colleagues at the Co-operative Assistance Network.

Updated: 26/03/2019