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6 New Ways to Research Online Shoppers

Understanding the behaviour of shoppers in an online space comes with its own set of challenges. Contextual variables are even more difficult to predict than in a shop or store and competition for the attention and engagement of your potential shoppers is even more diverse and fierce. Good business intelligence can be extracted from a combination of well-placed questions, data analysis and foresight and researching online shoppers is always going to require a mix of methods and techniques for a rounded picture that can confidently inform a business decision.

Traditional focus groups have always had their limits and criticisms, not least because of the time, cost and restrictive structure. But have you ever considered doing your research in a much larger group? The popularity of the swarm method has been on the increase and I completely understand why. There are so many benefits to larger groups, including efficiency, creativity and openness. A lot of extra depth can be gleaned via large group facilitation and this isn’t limited to NPD and innovation.

Asking online shoppers to review and feedback together in the same online space — testing out user journeys, responding to web page visuals, keeping a journal of their online habits all help us understand the online shopper whilst they are in a shopping frame of mind. But also enabling them to discuss and respond to each other opens them up and gives them the opportunity to reveal much more than their initial comments. Seeing someone else’s confusion with a web page, for example, allows others to admit that they got a bit lost too. Or viewing a fellow shopper’s description of a need can spark a new idea from a similar online user.

According to research, we are all becoming much more visual. I’m not sure that’s true: we were always visual but now we have more ways of expressing it online — Pinterest, Instagram, Vine etc. Your research can capitalise on this trend and the accuracy of your insights from online shoppers can benefit hugely. Uploaded screen grabs and selfies should be common place in your research insights.

Multi-media is easier to share from a smartphone and using a scrapbook provides an easy place to collect and narrate relevant images for the research. Online shoppers share examples of good and bad experiences, express their needs via a range of images, or submit entries for a new feature they’d like to be adapted from another website.

Scrapbooking has been a tool that deep qualitative explorations have got a lot of value from for a long time. But taking this tool online means that shoppers can share with you via a fun, rich medium too — not just their friends and family.

Fast and powerful. For many, mood mapping may not be a new technique. But it does deserve a mention on the new list, as often the applications can be seen as quite limited. This technique has proven time and time again to be the best method for revealing the joys and the frustrations of navigating around a website in one foul swoop. A mood map brings together qualitative depth, emotional sentiment and quantified volumes of feedback all in one place.

You are completely deaf to the online shopper’s voice when they arrive at the check-out page and their saved choices are lost. They may be shouting, but you can’t hear them! How do you discover these unmet needs and evaluate the scale and impact on the bottom line?

Many customer journey mapping processes end in a very beautiful (or sometimes haphazard) flow diagram. But how often to you test a journey with a broader base of online shoppers. Showing the diagram back to your online shopping audience, getting direct feedback and tagging the differences in customers and shoppers experiences often throws up the main difference between the experience of a loyal customer and a casual browser in a study that takes only 3–4 days to complete.

As researchers, we rejoice when the wider business incorporates voice of the customer metrics into KPI measures. But we still have to strive to educate and inform the business about how to use this voice. Online shoppers can give you brilliant feedback and can explain why they do or don’t love your ideas in a more powerful way via direct, in the moment questioning.

However, they can’t predict the way in which a new product can fulfill a need that they haven’t been able to articulate. A voice of the customer programme is just that — a powerful tool for understanding your current customer base. Your online shoppers are different. You can understand a lot more about the potential for your new products by asking online shoppers all about their own behaviour. Be more need and task driven. It is hard for a customer to assess what they haven’t yet seen.

Online shoppers share a lot with you. They are prepared to trade personal information in order to help meet their needs. There is an obvious benefit to joining a shopper’s browsing behaviour with the details they’ve submitted in an enquiry form for your sales and marketing team but not getting to analyse and access this wealth of data is a huge missed opportunity. Make ownership of that shopper data your top priority (the marketing team will give it up when they realise how much you can support them).

There are many options out there, if you are taking your first steps towards connecting data sources together, and wider considerations than the business benefits. Informing shoppers and being transparent about how you want to use their data to improve their experiences will help you grow your database quickly and will protect the integrity of your brand/or the brand that you are working with, whilst also getting more value from joining together your data sources.

References: Wells, T (2015), ‘What market researchers should know about mobile surveys”, International Journal of Market Research, 57 (4), p521

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