How to Get in Front of Customers Who Are at the Research Stage of the Shopping Journey


It’s very rare for consumers to make purchase decisions without doing any research. Save for impulse buys, people generally take their time and consult several sources when they’re trying to decide what to buy and who to buy from.

As a retailer, it’s important to be aware of this, and invest a lot in interacting with people even before they decide to buy. You need to get in front of customers who are at the research phase of the shopping journey, and you must engage them in such a way so that they’ll either be nudged towards the next stage (i.e. to actually buy from you) or they’ll keep you in their radar until they’re ready to buy.

To help you accomplish this, we’ve mapped out the steps you can take to increase your visibility with consumers and provided examples of merchants who are on the right track. Check them out below:


Figure out the terms and questions your customers are using when they’re doing research

The first step to engaging customers who are in the research phase is to get inside their heads. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself: If you were your customer, what questions would you ask when you want to learn more about a product?

Let’s say you own a vape shop and want to get in front of potential customers looking to learn more about e-cigarettes. Your job at this stage is to identify the terms and questions they would use when doing research.

For example, a potential customer may ask something like, “How long do e-cigs last?” or, they may enter a search query comparing e-cig brands (ex: “Aspire e-cigs vs Joyetech”)

The best way to accurately determine these things is to get the information straight from your customers.  Pay attention to the questions and words that they use when talking to you and your associates. What questions or concerns come up when they’re browsing your store? What are the words they use to describe your products or their issues?

Sources that you can tap into to get this type of information include:

  • Personal conversations with shoppers
  • In-store associates
  • Customer call logs
  • Live chat logs
  • Social media comments and mentions

You can also use keyword research tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner or to get ideas on relevant search queries.

Comb through the sources above and make a list of questions and terms that you find. Doing so will give you a better idea of what potential customers want and need to know when they’re considering buying your products.

Once you’ve completed this step, move on to the tasks below:


Determine the methods or channels people are using when doing research, then use them to get in front of customers

Your next step is to figure out which research methods people are using when they want to want to learn more about your products. Are they conducting Google searches? Do they read blogs and informational websites first? Are they looking at reviews or asking their friends?

Hint: chances are, your customers are using a combination of sources when they’re scoping out products. Your job is to find out the most commonly used ones, and leverage those to get in front of customers.

For example, if most of your customers are using search engines (which they probably are) then you’ll want to ramp up your SEO efforts and create content that’ll help you rank better in search. Or, if potential customers are scouring review sites to do research, then it’s best to increase your presence on sites like Yelp or Tripadvisor.

Below is a more in-depth look at the different tools and sources that customers use at the pre-buying stage of their shopping journeys, along with tips on how you can increase your presence in each one:


Web searches

In addition to optimizing your website for search (consult your favorite SEO expert on how to do this), an effective way to increase your visibility in search results is to come up with educational resources for your audience.

Remember those questions and terms you listed above? Create content that addresses those queries and concerns. Some of the tactics you can try include:


Creating a FAQ page

Create a detailed FAQ page on your website. But rather than just addressing questions on shipping and returns, produce a page that provides richer product information about things that people actually want to know.

Take the common questions that you compiled earlier, then write out detailed answers for each one.


A good example of this comes from Cool Vape, one of Vend’s awesome customers. Rather than just creating a FAQ page with generic questions about shipping and whatnot, they produced one that informs and instructs customers. They even have pictures.

Having a rich FAQ page enables Cool Vape to not only educate potential customers, but it also allows them to stand out from competitors who have generic content. This positions them as a thought leader, and customers are more likely to remember them when it’s time to make a purchase.


Producing articles and guides

Writing educational articles and guides will help you establish thought leadership and trust—two key factors that can influence customers’ purchase decisions.

Again, you should refer to the information you gathered earlier to come up with material for your guides or articles. Think about the questions or concerns your customers may have, then address them using informative (read: non-salesy) content.


Check out what Williams Sonoma is doing. In addition to having an excellent blog that publishes informative posts on cooking and decorating, the retailer also has a special resource section on its site that’s packed with cooking guides, recipes, entertaining ideas, and more.



Ratings and reviews offer social proof or third party feedback that consumers rely on when making purchase decisions. According to a recent study by PowerReviews, almost 94% of shoppers check out reviews during their shopping journey.

Leveraging reviews could help you increase visibility, so find ways to use them. If you have an ecommerce site for instance, give customers the ability to leave ratings and reviews for your products. Not only will this help other shoppers in their buying decisions, but reviews can also give your site a nice SEO boost.

If you have a brick-and-mortar store, you can tap into the power of reviews by ramping up your efforts on review sites like Yelp. If you haven’t done so yet, claim your listing on the site and start responding to what people are saying. You can also encourage people to “check-in” or leave reviews by offering incentives such as upgrades, freebies, or discounts.


Check out this post for more detailed instructions on how to get listed on online directories and review sites.


Social networks

Think social media is just for, well, socializing? Think again. Some consumers—millennials in particular—are actually using social sites as research tools when they want learn more about companies and their products.


A study on millennials and social commerce by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that while supporting brands is the top reason that customers like and follow companies on social media, a good chunk of respondents also do it to research brands as they’re looking for specific products and services.

If you find that a lot of your customers are using social media when they’re researching products, find ways to use those sites to your advantage. If you’re on Facebook, for example, experiment with Facebook ads to see if they’re able to drive awareness and leads.  If your audience is using Pinterest, then start pinning (attractive) images of your products and link back to your site.



Consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to do product and store research, so make sure that all your content (ex: the resources and reviews mentioned above) are smartphone- and tablet-friendly.

Simplify the process of finding and viewing product pages, reviews, and articles in the small screen, and ensure that your search feature works well.

Additionally, shoppers often use their mobile devices to find a store’s hours and location, so see to it that that information is easy to find. You may also want to include mapping and “click to call” features to allow users to get in touch quickly.

In addition to investing in your own mobile site, also try to learn more about the apps your customers are using when doing product research. There are numerous product discovery apps out there that assist consumers in their shopping journeys; figure out what those are, then see if you can partner or get listed in them.

Mobile shopping apps such as Ibotta, Shopstyle, and Shopkick, for example, offer retailers the opportunity to partner up and get listed in their catalogs. If you find that your customers are avid users of such apps, and if it makes sense for your company, why not get in touch and see if you can get your store included in their listings?


Bottom line

Remember that famous Woody Allen quote about how 80% of success is showing up? That adage also applies to the challenge of getting in front of shoppers.

If you manage to just show up and be on the radar of customers at the time when they are looking for more information or are trying to decide what to buy, you can greatly increase the chances of a successful sale.

How are you engaging customers while they’re at the pre-buying stage of their shopping journeys? Let us know in the comments.


About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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