Dr. Stephen Needel

Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

Dr. Stephen Needel is Managing Partner of Advanced Simulations, based in Woodstock, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. He formed and now manages an international company responsible for bringing virtual reality simulations to bear on retailing, marketing, and consumption issues from a research perspective.

Prior to starting ASL, Dr. Needel was President of Simulation Research, where he brought the concept of using virtual reality technology to the everyday marketing research world. Dr. Needel held the position of Vice President for Product Development at A.C. Nielsen, where he developed new techniques for integrating and analyzing retail scanner data and household purchasing data. He has also been a Vice President of Analytical Services at Nielsen after coming from their competitor, Information Resources, where he led a team doing advanced analytical research from IRI’s BehaviorScan market testing system. Earlier jobs included analytical roles at Burke Marketing Research and Quaker Oats.

Originally a native of the Boston, Dr. Needel came to the business community with a B. A. in Psychology from The American University and a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Connecticut. He is a member of the American Marketing Association.

His international experience dovetails nicely with his appreciation of English beers, South American beef, Australian football, and Mexican chiles. He hopes to pass on these fondnesses to his two sons.

  • Posted on: 08/20/2019

    Is technology really making stores more like the web?

    If stores are trying to make the in-store experience more like shopping online, they are dooming themselves - why go to a store if I get the same experience as being online? I want a better experience in the store, not a parity experience. That said, there are aspects of online that can or should be incorporated into the retail environment. Information is readily available online and not in-store. Helpful sales people (i.e. chats) are available online and finding a helpful salesperson can be challenging in-store. Don't make the store in the image of online - incorporate what you can and make it better retail.
  • Posted on: 08/19/2019

    Will a new grocery private label spur more Target runs?

    Target should be asking the question, what happens to the rest of the store if they stop selling groceries? My guess is either the decline of in-store sales is negligible or they can put the space to better (more profitable) use. They aren't going to have the price, the variety, or the interesting selection that makes other chains viable. Maybe they should just give it up. Or, given how much data they must have on their guests, figure out what staple foods are commonly bought and feature that as a small store section.
  • Posted on: 08/15/2019

    New site wants to make independent grocery jobs into careers

    No offense meant to any of my retailer friends, but let's be honest - working in a grocery store, like working in fast food, is a right of passage for many teenagers. There just can't be that many saying, "Gee - I've always wanted to manage a grocery store!" Maybe a more active role for NGA would help attract and keep talent - this sounds more passive, in that you would have to find it before it became useful.
  • Posted on: 08/08/2019

    Has the starting point of customer journeys moved?

    It's rare that I disagree with Nikki, but in this case I think much of her point is debatable. First, there's little data that even suggests that what a brand or retailer stands for matters. If this did matter, one could never explain the success of Amazon or Walmart. Second, the whole question of customer journey is such a limited and limiting concept. For most of what we buy (CPG), there is no journey except a need/want (a trivial distinction in this context). You don't go on a journey to buy your toilet paper, except that you are typically in the car and going to a store. By the time you've decided to go to Walmart or Target, it's too late to influence that "journey." Sorry Nikki — the triggers remain trivial and irrelevant for so much of what we do or who we are.
  • Posted on: 08/05/2019

    Will outsourcing jobs help Lowe’s associates better serve customers in stores?

    The outsourcing really shouldn't impact store level associates helping customers. Maintenance staff is maintenance staff - they aren't interacting with customers. If you make assembly staff third party, to the minimal extent they interact with customers, you'll lose that. This has to be a profit-based move - it has nothing to do with associates spending time with customers.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2019

    Has Amazon ‘destroyed the retail industry’ in the U.S.?

    It has certainly changed retailing, but I'm not sure it's "destroyed" it. I don't find any reduction in competition having been harmful. Indeed, I think I'm paying less for a lot of stuff on Amazon and that seems to be a positive for American consumers, not a detriment. Go search for something and see the 10 sites that pop up offering an item - that's not limiting competition.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2019

    Does Tim Hortons need an innovation cafe?

    Can we think of a chain that has ever executed a lab-based retail concept? I'm having a hard time imagining any U.S. chain doing the makeover this lab would require on a store-by-store basis. If true, this would suggest that labs may help its corporate image, both internally and externally, but it's not going to do much for the company itself.
  • Posted on: 07/23/2019

    How long is the customer journey?

    Clearly biased towards higher-priced items. Most of what we buy day in and day out is grocery and there's probably a trivial, if any, purchase journey there.
  • Posted on: 07/10/2019

    When does marketing cross an ethical line?

    Gee - I always thought that marketing was inherently unethical, in the sense that the job is to sell us stuff that, let's be honest, we may want but really don't need. I'm excusing Charmin, Cottonelle, Northern and Angel Soft marketers - obviously a critical category. That doesn't mean that the profession is evil, it just means that a marketer's job is to put the best face on a product in the hopes we'll spend money on it. Of course, they can cross the line - for me the worst is concealing important information, like, "this will taste great but it will give you a horrible disease." Targeting vulnerable groups, especially kids, is a close second on my list.
  • Posted on: 07/09/2019

    Location-based marketing is spreading beyond smartphones

    I'm on the "less" side of this discussion - I think we'll see fewer benefits (unless you like ads) and more intrusiveness and more hacks that will make us all more cautious.
  • Posted on: 06/27/2019

    The data and analytics talk that must stop

    The first question should be whether improving the customer experience actually matters. I've argued here and in Greenbook posts that we might make much more of customer experience than is warranted. For the most part, we need to avoid a bad experience in CPG, not create good or great experiences. Even there, there are exceptions. The club stores (BJ's, Costco, Sam's Club) provide very poor customer experiences as we would commonly define it, yet they are packed with loyal shoppers.
  • Posted on: 06/24/2019

    How do consumers define cleanliness in grocery stores?

    I'm surprised they didn't mention smell. I'm not thinking of enticing bakery scents - I'm thinking of bad-smelling cleaners (hello A&P, hello Winn-Dixie - they might have used the same foul-smelling detergent). If it doesn't smell good, it can't be clean.
  • Posted on: 06/17/2019

    Does self-checkout make sense for Costco?

    Same for us, Neil Saunders - mine never went away in Atlanta and at mom's in West Palm. The only time we use a regular checkout lane at Costco is when we have a full cart of items and self-checkout would be cumbersome. We almost never need it because how many bottles of Kirkland wine can we buy in one visit? And more visits mean more $1.50 hot dogs for lunch (rated #1 by Washington Post).
  • Posted on: 06/10/2019

    Walmart debuts store-to-fridge fresh food delivery service

    I'm a big Walmart fan -- but not this big. Can't decide if it's a little creepy or a lot creepy. But I'll look differently at the Walmart team, later today when I go there, wondering who I'd let in my house.
  • Posted on: 06/06/2019

    Ace Hardware and True Value satisfy customers, Home Depot not so much

    Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man. They also package hardware in ways we use hardware, not always in the way they want to sell hardware. Sell me the two screws I need, not a pack of 12 (hear that Lowe's? Home Depot?). And put more people on the floor. I walk into Ace and there's someone asking me if I need help. I walk into Home Depot and someone wants to sell me a credit card.

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