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If you’re in marketing, sales, or product development, you’re likely familiar with customer journey mapping, shopping funnels, and decision trees. Basically, it’s the process of interviewing, observing, and tracking the steps that customers go through before making a purchase. These processes can be used in retail environments, for customer support centers, and for website design.

Fast Company just profiled how Google Ventures is using shopping funnels to help companies design captivating websites that address customers’ common questions in the order that people likely think of them as they navigate through a site. The article highlights a process that we use here at InterQ when helping customers create customer journey maps and shopping funnels, so we thought we’d spend some time explaining how we go about doing this process for our clients. It involves a good bit of qualitative research, and it’s a fascinating, yet straightforward way to improve user experience and design.

Build a shopping funnel by understanding how customers make decisions

The Fast Company article breaks down the common steps that customers go through when evaluating companies, and ultimately, making a purchase decision. It looks like this:

Step 1: Competitive Review

Unless customers are already brand loyal, or knows exactly what they want, they’ll likely begin their purchasing process by browsing sites with similar products. They’ll look at what’s available, probe to see if what is available meets their criteria, and then seek out further information on the product.

Step 2: Narrowing down the selection

Once customers find the products that offer the features they’re looking for, they’ll start to narrow down their selection. Often this is based on pricing considerations, user reviews, and overall features.

Step 3: Third-party validation

Consider it human nature, but people like to receive third-party validation before they make a purchase decision. This is why user reviews, testimonials, and ratings are so important to include on websites.

Step 4: Try before you buy

One downfall of online marketplaces is that people can’t pick up a product and try it in the same way that they can if they’re in a store. The tangible aspect is missing. Companies such as Warby Parker get this – it’s why they offer their “try before you buy” option; customers receive five pairs of glasses to try on at home before they purchase, and they can also upload a picture of themselves to see how the glasses look on their face. Online, look for ways to give your customers ways to test out the product before they purchase it.

How we use qualitative research to build shopping funnels

The above steps outlined are difficult (and, frankly, not very thorough) to accomplish without direct customer research. At InterQ, to build shopping funnels, our process looks like this:

Step 1: Competitive review

When helping customers build shopping funnels for website design, we first do a competitive review. We look at similar websites in the category, look up search engine terms, see how websites rate in SEO, and take detailed notes on the flow and shopping funnels that competitors use. How do they describe their products? How is the information structured? All of this helps us understand the wider marketplace messages that customers receive when shopping.

Step 2: Recruiting

We’re interested in how customers in a particular category shop, and we want to know what questions they have while shopping, so our recruiting process is highly selective. We may narrow down by geography, age, male/female, and specific criteria, such as “I shop online frequently for ___” (Fill in product category.)

Step 3: The qualitative interview

Now is the fun part. We conduct qualitative interviews with customers. We want to hear their stories. What does their shopping process look like? Which company websites do they like and why? What frustrates them as they’re going through the purchasing process on a website?

We prefer actual interviews during step three versus a quantitative approach, which would use surveys. In interviews, we can expand on our questions, iterate, and get richer data.

Step 4: Observation

Often people make decisions for reasons they may not be able to articulate. Decision making, in fact, is commonly a subconscious process. After the qualitative interview, we then want to observe how people actually browse and shop online. We use a variety of online qualitative tools (virtual ethnographic research) that allows us to observe people’s processes as they browse online, make selections, and search for additional information.

Step 5: Post-shopping interviews

After the initial interview, and then observing how people brows and shop, we then do follow-up interviews to probe deeper into people’s experiences while shopping. We ask them to compare the sites they went to, discuss what they liked about them and disliked, and we ask them to sketch out features they’d like included, or even draw out their “ideal” path to help them make the purchasing decision.

Step 6: Concept testing

Armed with the interview and observation data, we then have the client create their website wireframes and mockups. Once a few different testing sites are available, we ask our interview panels to test the sites and give us feedback on the shopping experience.

Shopping funnels give you actionable customer feedback

When you invest in qualitative research to create shopping funnels, you are giving yourself a way to use real data – customer behavior, needs, and practices – to build websites and improve the shopping experience. Instead of investing in an expensive website that customers may find clumsy, or that may not give people the information they’re looking for, you’re able to build a site built on actual customer feedback. The interview and observation process provide incredibly useful and actionable user data to help you nail your website, the first time, without countless rounds of heat maps and A/B split testing.

Interested in building a shopping funnel? Let’s get started. We are a top San Francisco market research firm, and we’re passionate about building shopping funnels >