Practical Ecommerce

Understanding Ecommerce Shoppers: Who, Why, Where, When, How

Most ecommerce merchants can describe their customers in a general way. They likely know basic demographics — age range, gender, income level. But, do they understand the “why,” “where,” “when,” and “how” their customers make their purchases? These basic tenants of marketing are more important than ever.

The buying process has never been more complex. Consumers have hundred of places online to purchase products that meet their needs. They may shop at home, at work, in the grocery store. They may be using an Android phone, an iPhone, or an Xbox.

The best place to start understanding your customer is to put yourself into every step of a buying cycle and analyze what influences various purchase decisions.

This article will provide a template.

Who Is your Customer?

This is basic demographics and usually includes the following.

  • Age range
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Location
  • Profession

Many of these basic demographics can be inferred from your interactions with customers. In many cases, you can simply ask them.

Beyond the basics, you will also benefit from more personal data, such as the following.

  • Interests
  • Activities
  • Political affiliation

That data is harder to access, but there are databases that will allow you to target individuals based on those criteria. Facebook’s ad platform provides an incredible amount of targeting data. You can infer your customer profiles by the types of results you get by running ads aimed at specific target markets. That will help identify the interests of your customers.

What Does your Customer Need to Know?

Next, consider what consumers need to know about a product to make a purchase.

  • What does it looks like?
  • How does it function?
  • How big is it?
  • What sizes and colors are available?
  • What options are there?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Are there ongoing costs?
  • Is there a warranty?
  • How long will it last?
  • What are its specs?
  • Does it need anything else to make it work?

To find those details, shoppers will seek different sources: articles, websites, blogs, and actually looking at products and trying them on.

Make sure you understand the “what” questions for your products. Then, provide answers to those questions.

Why Do Consumers Purchase your Products?

The “why” questions are important. Do you know why your customers buy your products? It could be for the following reasons.

  • Address an immediate need or desire.
  • Need product occasionally or on a regular schedule.
  • Shop around every time they buy.
  • Loyal to a particular brand or store.
  • Purchase because product is cool or trendy.
  • Seek the lowest price possible.
  • Seek little or no shipping or sales tax.
  • Need flexibility to return products.
  • Seek high-quality products.
  • Seek bargains.

The answers will surely vary. Consider, also, what motivates your customers to purchase the products you sell and also why they purchase them from your company versus your competitor. This will help you better refine your value proposition of why shoppers choose your company.

How Do Customers Research your Products?

This area is the most significant change in a consumer’s shopping cycle. As recently as 15 years ago, most product research was done in stores or catalogs or magazines. Today, product research is done in many ways. In the living room, in the boardroom, at the hospital, you name it. Most shoppers start their search at Amazon.com or on Google by searching on a product. Or do they?

Many searches start with an opportunistic email promoting a product. From there, we may find the shopper looking at the item on that store’s website. She may then branch out and see what Amazon has that is similar. In some cases, she may table that thought. In other cases, she may decide to shop around at many stores.

Consumers likely check product reviews, from other consumers. They may read professional reviews. They may do that on their large screen monitors at home. But, they may also be sitting in an animal hospital at 10 p.m. waiting for their dog to have surgery, as I did last night. All I had to do there was browse the Internet on my iPhone.

The point is to understand your customer’s research process. It will vary widely. But in many cases it’s something like this.

  • An event triggers an interest in a product.
  • Conduct research by looking at a product’s pictures, reading descriptions and so forth.
  • Seek out reviews or ask friends.
  • Check other brands or alternative products.
  • Narrow your selection and shop for price.
  • Evaluate the product’s real value, and eventually make a purchase decision.

Where Do they Research?

That leads us to the where customers are researching. They could be reading relevant blogs, going to brick and mortar stores, checking comparison shopping engines, and reading trade publication articles. They may be looking at Pinterest boards, Facebook posts, and checking with their network of friends on Twitter.

They will be using tablets (increasingly the shopper’s preference), smartphones, laptops, desktops, Xboxes, and store visits.

Can an ecommerce merchant be in all of these places with your message? Likely no. But you can identify where your customers are looking for information as they move through their cycle and try to make sure you are seen. You can also ensure that your messaging and content are mobile friendly.

To compete in the future, your store needs to provide input and information to support all those steps. If you lack reviews, your customers will seek them out elsewhere.


Dale Traxler
Dale Traxler
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