One solution that makes a lot of sense is to take a principle that all marketers should be familiar with, the shopping funnel, and turn it on its head. The goal here is to identify the questions that customers ask as they evaluate their purchases. The theory comes from Michael Margolis, a user experience (UX) research partner at Google Venture. Margolis says that in his experience shopping, whether for an actual product or for a service such as a medical practitioner, he realized it really is a predictable process that can be mapped to reveal how all consumers make their buying choices.
He explained over at Fast Company how this funnel solution sprang from his experience as a researcher at WalMart. He studied how consumers shop and was able to identify predictable processes on the customer journey from selection through evaluation right down to making the buying decision. He is now putting his theory into practice in his role at Google Ventures.
What the Shopping Funnel Model Looks Like
Margolis says that while the process will differ depending on the product or service, shopping is all about making choices, often in no more than five steps. These steps can be boiled down to a basic shopping funnel model.
These are the steps he’s identified:
- Gather options and establish their criteria.
- Make a short list to look at more closely.
- Drill into product detail.
- Validate by seeking reviews.
- Try a product out before committing.
Think about how you shop online. Doesn’t this make sense? They do for me, and I’ll bet they largely do for you (and your customers) as well.
Margolis contends that a website designed around research on these elements of the consumer journey can guide the potential customer to make choices that are more likely to result in a sale. By working out what details are most important to customers, the seller can design options around that sales journey that will make it easy for the consumer to narrow down their choices, based on the criteria that matter the most to them.
Putting Theory Into Practice – How it Works
To put the theory into practice, the team at Google Ventures has devised a system around the concept of sprints that is designed to allow for the testing of several prototypes, in the time it normally takes to build and launch a new product or feature. This, they say, allows for a more confident launch based on a solution already refined through research and testing. The process is designed to allow the design team to:
- Find the right test subjects.
- Ask what they like and dislike about shopping.
- Test prototypes by watching testers shop and getting feedback on what works and what doesn’
- Compare and contrast products.
- Sketch a shopping funnel to guide the design process.
Sprints: The Key to the Shopping Funnel
The system revolves around sprints designed to provide the information required to sketch out an effective shopping funnel. These sprints are focus groups of yesterday’s marketing research, and are built around the build, launch, test, tweak theory that personifies a lot of what the world of business (and development) is about today. Here are what those sprints look like:
The research sprint. The research sprint is a four-day program designed to interview carefully targeted test subjects to gain an insight into their motivations, shopping habits, and preferences. This phase relies on having realistic prototypes available with which to gauge reactions from the users, and determine their preferences. The whole design team is involved in analyzing the feedback, as well as in deciding on the next steps in the process, with the emphasis being on a quick evaluation process.
The design sprint. Based on the knowledge gained from the research sprint, the process moves into a five-day design sprint. This phase is designed to narrow down options and test prototypes within a strict timescale. The goal in this sprint is to identify what works, and more importantly what doesn’t, in double quick time to allow the design process to move forward speedily and effectively.
The desired result from this combination of research and testing is a website design that is structured and organized, in line with the most likely questions customers will ask. A properly researched funnel will guide your customers and help them make the the right decisions, and ultimately find the solution they need. In the process, you’ve got a happy customer and a sale, and they’ve got what they need, when and how they needed it. A win-win for everyone.
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? You can find a lot more about how to structure your own research and design sprints at Google ventures. Note that this isn’t an endorsement of the Google Ventures service, which I haven’t tried—but you can find some good free resources to try it out for yourself. And if you do, you know I want to hear about it.
There’s no question that gaining a better understanding of the motivations and preferences that drive consumer decisions is key to the design of your killer ecommerce website. Using shopping funnel visualizations would certainly seem to be an effective way to do just that, and to also track target market’s decision journey.
What do you think? Is this a tactic that you have used in the past and if not is it something you might take a look at?
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