Business > Merchant Voice

How to learn about your customers, for cheap

One of the most important ways to help your business is to know the demographics and interests of your customers. If you don’t understand your customers, it’s difficult to write content for them, develop products for them, or even market to them.

In this post, I’ll describe a few inexpensive tactics that I’ve used at FringeSport to narrow down our customer demographics.

Customer demographics, interests

The underlying principle for me is to be curious when you see something that can help understand customers. Likewise if you see something that doesn’t make sense, dig into that, too.

One example of this is when I worked for Living Direct, the consumer goods retailer. Among other products, we sold air conditioners. One day a customer called me. He wanted to know how many BTUs of air conditioning he needed to counteract a certain number of watts from light bulbs.

I was confused about why this customer had so many lights in his house. Eventually it came out that he was running a “farming” operation in his house.

I don’t think he was farming tomatoes.

He had many grow lamps and they were putting out a tremendous amount of heat — hence his need for air conditioners.

It turned out that this customer was not alone. Over time, we had a small but valuable set of customers who were buying our air conditioners for their grow houses. If I had not been curious about the first customer, we would never have known about this significant and interesting demographic.

This brings me to my first low budget technique for understanding your customers: Talk to them. If your company has a customer service staff, sit in for a day or two. Talk to customers and prospects.

If you don’t have many call-in customers, you can call them. Ask how their orders fared. Engage them in conversation. How are they using your products? Where do they live? What are their interests?

You can find a lot out by being friendly and visiting. You will likely discern some commonality.

It’s even better if you can talk to your customers in person. If you have a physical shop, this is simple. Otherwise, call customers who live nearby and invite them for a visit. If necessary, offer a small incentive.

For FringeSport, it’s easy. Many of our customers have garage gyms. We can offer to consult them on building out their gyms, offer to feature them on our social media feeds, or even just work out with them!

Google Analytics is another way to learn about your customers. Google Analytics will show your customers’ age, gender, interests, and more. In my experience, it tends to be pretty accurate.

Next is to just go through the orders on your ecommerce platform. I occasionally review 100 orders on our Shopify store to check our male-female customer ratio and anything else that jumps out.

The next step is to use Facebook’s ad tools, to gather information about visitors to your page.

Also, if you have large competitors with a similar customer base, try to figure out who their customers are. One way to do this is via a look-a-like audience on Facebook.

Develop a customer persona

Once you’ve learned about customers, put together a persona. This is a hypothetical, ideal customer, based on the demographic information that you’ve uncovered.

For example, using the example of the indoor farmer, I could have concluded that our customers were 25-years old, reside in California, and have a moderate (cash) income. They are looking for air conditioners for indoor farming. Their average order size is roughly $2,000 and they order about once a year.

Beyond that, I should determine where that customer hangs out, online and off. Then I could hang out there, too, and market.

These are a few methods that I use to learn about customers. Did I miss any? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments, below.

Peter Keller
Peter Keller
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