Sep 7, 2021

How to Perform Consumer Research

A solid marketing strategy starts with identifying your ideal customer persona (ICP) through consumer research. Knowing your ICP is a top priority for ecommerce businesses looking to grow and evolve.

James Uzzalino

Who are your customers?

This seemingly simple question carries a lot of weight for marketers and ecommerce businesses. After all, the bottom line of ecommerce is to get products into customers’ hands. Knowing who those customers are and why they make the purchasing decisions that they do is imperative for a strong ecommerce marketing strategy. Diligent customer research can help answer this important question.

This guide will help you understand what consumer research is, why your ecommerce business will benefit from consumer research, offer seven methods that you can use to market your products to the most responsive audiences, and tell you how to conduct consumer research in four easy steps.

What is consumer research?

Consumer research is a component of market research that identifies the behaviors and motivations of target customers. With this information, businesses can better understand who their customers are, what draws customers to the business’s products, and how to most effectively communicate with their audiences.

There are numerous tactics and tools to aid in consumer research, ranging from direct contact with customers in focus groups to secondary research performed with resources made available by government agencies. These tactics and tools can be divided into the following broad categories:

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research focuses on measurable numerical data—the “hard data” that many investors and executives look for when making decisions. When it comes to consumer research, quantitative data is gathered with primary research methodologies like conducting surveys. Numerical data is also found by performing secondary research through resources like the Journal of Consumer Research.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research focuses on descriptive, non-numerical information gathered with open-ended questions. Qualitative information can provide valuable insight into customer pain points, what product features drew customers to a product, and other details that can’t be communicated with numerical data.

Keep in mind that there are research methods that gather both qualitative and quantitative data—both data types intersect at many points during the research process. Additionally, although numerical data is heralded as “king” in marketing, using qualitative and quantitative research methods together generates the most effective consumer research strategy for ecommerce businesses.

Why is consumer research helpful?

Consumer research is an essential process for ecommerce businesses of all sizes and lifecycle stages because it helps:

...Identify your audiences

Every product has a market that is best suited to it, known as the target market. A solid marketing strategy requires knowing who the ideal customer is based on their demographic information, psychographic information, and behavior patterns. The process of consumer research identifies the audiences that buy your product and why.

...Refine your marketing strategy

With a clearly defined target audience, the pieces of your marketing strategy will fall into place more smoothly. Consumer research not only identifies who your audience is, but also how to communicate with them most effectively. Knowing the channels that your customers best respond to, be it social media, email, or blog posts, will guide your marketing strategy and messaging.

...Put your customers first

The goal of consumer research is to better understand your customers so that you can consider their needs and desires as your ecommerce business grows and evolves. An effective consumer research process aligns your marketing strategies with your customers’ preferences, increasing customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

...Guide high-level decision making

Consumer research answers broad questions that can determine the direction of your business. For example, sometimes the product you’ve launched ends up resonating with a different audience than you intended to reach. And that’s okay! Your business may have to shift gears a bit, but because you performed consumer research, you’ll be on solid ground once you’ve refined your strategies. Additionally, consumer research can help your business determine what new products to launch for your target customers and how to optimize existing products.

7 Methods for Performing Consumer Research

Focus Groups

Focus groups are a qualitative research method performed by gathering of a small number of customers that participate in a discussion guided by a moderator. Participants share their opinions about brands, products, shopping experiences, and other topics that provide actionable consumer insights for your brands and products.

Even in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, focus groups are still a feasible research method that can be carried out via webinars.

One-on-One Interviews

One-on-one interviews, or face-to-face surveys, are used to gather in-depth qualitative information from a single customer. Often these are done as a customer exits a store, which requires planning and coordination with the retailer itself.

Ecommerce businesses that do not distribute products to retailers can still benefit from one-on-one interviews. In fact, the ease of scheduling with and contacting respondents is easier when done remotely.

Review Mining

Review mining can provide both quantitative and qualitative data: Numerical “star” ratings give quantitative information, and the written content of reviews shares qualitative information. As you gather data from reviews, look for themes like common complaints, why reviewers purchased a product, or favorite features.

Review mining is also a great way to tap into competitive analysis. Identifying audiences of your competitors and how those audiences behave will provide insight into your own audiences and strategies.

Surveys and Questionnaires

Consumer surveys and questionnaires are simple tools that can reach a large number of audience members and, in turn, gather information from a large number of respondents. Plus, these tools can gather both quantitative and qualitative data by combining questions asking for, say, numerical rankings with open-ended questions about what customers like or don’t like about a product. These tools also add flexibility because they can be as short as a few quick questions or as long as a few pages.

Surveys also have the added bonus of easy data compilation and analysis. Online survey services like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are prepared to organize and present data for you, saving resources like employee time.


Ecommerce businesses are no strangers to analytics. They provide powerful insights into many elements of your business, including consumer research. Analytics that track consumer behavior, like conversion rates, can be expanded into further identifying information valuable to customer research. For example, you can learn how converting customers find your products, whether it’s through a search engine query or a marketing email.

Additionally, social media analytics are an excellent resource for consumer research. Most social media platforms, especially Facebook, gather in-depth demographic information about your audiences. Plus, you’ll have access to engagement data so you’ll understand what types of content your audiences respond best to.

Secondary Research

Secondary research, which is the process of retrieving previously compiled research data, helps answer questions about industry-wide trends and makes predictions that can help guide decision making. Oftentimes, it’s helpful to start your primary marketing research by looking at secondary sources so that you can generate specific questions to be answered by your own research.

Examples of secondary research resources include:

4 Simple Steps to Performing Consumer Research

Step 1: Set Goals

As with any marketing project, setting goals and objectives is imperative to a successful customer research effort. Know which specific research questions you need to have answered so that planning the research itself will come more easily. Conducting secondary research can help narrow down specific questions so that you’ll get the most insight out of the process.

Step 2: Identify Methodologies and Audience

Select which research method will answer your research questions most precisely and helpfully. Construct spreadsheets or prepare other analysis tools for when the results begin to arrive. Identify who the ideal respondents are for the research project and how they will be reached. Plan the questions you will ask respondents ahead of time using the secondary research you conducted. Make sure questions are phrased clearly so there is no ambiguity and responses will be accurate.

Step 3: Execute Primary Research

Distribute surveys and questionnaires, conduct focus groups or interviews, and/or collect data from analytics and other primary sources. Make sure you’re attentive to any themes found in your research and include them in your analysis.

Step 4: Analyze Results and Tailor Your Strategies

Examine your findings by analyzing data and presenting it in a way that stakeholders will understand. Use this information to inform your marketing approaches. 

Remember, the research process doesn’t end here. Conduct consumer research regularly so you keep up with your business’s growth and changing customer base.

Apteo Maximizes Consumer Research

Apteo’s automated segmentation feature enhances consumer research efforts by dividing your customers into segments based on their buyer behavior. Plus, Apteo allows you to create your own segments, so your research findings can be implemented in your marketing strategy quickly and easily. Try Apteo’s segmentation and personalized email campaigns that maximize your research efforts by scheduling a demo today.


Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

About the author
James Uzzalino
Head of Growth at Apteo

James Uzzalino is the Head of Growth at Apteo, where he is responsible for engaging with customers and partners to deliver value and grow Apteo's business.