Retail Census


Exhibit 28.6   Coverage gap is the shortfall in the retail index sales estimate for a product.

Once it is defined, an establishment survey called a retail census is conducted to measure the size and characteristics of the universe. These estimates, which are updated on a regular basis, are used to:

  • Identify different outlet types and quantify number of outlets in a universe by type.
  • Provide key statistics for setting up a representative retail panel.

Details collected in a retail census typically include: outlet name, address, telephone number, outlet type, use of scanning equipment, presence of air-conditioning, refrigeration facilities, number of hours open per day, monthly turnover, floor space, and presence of major product categories.

For the organized trade, most of these details are readily available from secondary sources including retailer websites.

For the traditional trade, field personnel armed with area maps and questionnaires, go street by street collecting the relevant information. Most of the information is gathered by observation, and the remainder may be obtained from store owners/employees.

Information on monthly turnover for the stores of participating retailers is obtained from their data. As for non-participating retailers, some store owners may refuse to divulge data of this nature. For these stores, the missing data is projected by statisticians based on store characteristics such as store type, location, floor size, number of major categories, facilities etc.

It is usually neither practical nor cost-effective to undertake a complete census covering the entire country. Instead the retail census takes the form of an establishment survey, i.e. a survey to estimate the scale and characteristics of the retail universe. To ensure that the data has low statistical error the establishment survey is undertaken over a very large sample covering the defined universe.

For sampling purposes, the defined universe is split into a number of mapped areas called primary sampling units (PSU). The PSUs are categorized by some measure of size usually provided by government, e.g. cities, towns, villages or polling districts. For the establishment survey, statisticians select a representative sample of PSUs. Every outlet within the sample is surveyed, and the results are projected to the universe.

A common approach called the rolling census is used for relatively small, important geographical areas such as cities. The PSUs are divided across a set of "replicas" in such a manner that all replicas have very similar characteristics — spread across geographical areas, store types, location types. Once these replicas are defined, the survey periodically (e.g. once every six months) rolls from one replica to another, so that over time all replicas are covered.

In Singapore, for example, the retail audit PSUs were originally based on the polling districts demarcated for the 1994 general elections. These 640 PSUs were split into four replicas — roughly identical in terms of spread across housing estates, regions, retail channels and so on. The establishment survey is conducted over a six month period, rolling from one replica to another. Within a period of two years all four replicas are covered, and the cycle continues.

Because each replica is so similar to the others, projecting it to the universe provides for a reasonably good estimate. However, since certain biases do creep in, a more accurate approach is to adopt projection techniques that account for these biases.


Exhibit 28.7   China’s modern trade during the boom years — 2004 to 2006.

The core purpose of the retail census is to establish a basis for the sample design, and the foundation for the retail tracking service. It does however serve a number of secondary objectives. For instance, store census information is used by sales management for developing sales plans, and the aggregate data provides an understanding of retail trends in countries and regions across the globe. Exhibit 28.7 for instance illustrates the rapid growth of modern trade in China, during the boom years of 2004–2006. 

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