The Benefits of Performing Longitudinal Studies

Garret Cunningham

Customer research is critical to boosting conversion rates and increasing revenue for e-commerce businesses. Most research gathers feedback from online customers about their user experience at a certain moment in time.

In some instances, however, it can be beneficial to gather customer feedback and track their behaviour over longer periods of time — days, weeks, months or even years. This is known as longitudinal research.

Longitudinal studies — also sometimes referred to as ethnographic studies — can provide extended insights into customers’ pre- and post-purchase behaviour. This kind of research can help e-commerce businesses fill in the gaps between customers’ needs and wants so they can make website adjustments designed to boost conversion rates and create more repeat customers.

Performing longitudinal studies requires continually asking questions and gathering feedback from customers about their online user experience, instead of asking them questions just once. Here are a couple of examples of longitudinal studies we have performed for our clients and the benefits clients derived from them.

Eyeglasses retailer makes online purchasing less stressful

A number of factors can make it hard for customers to purchase eyeglasses online, such as getting the right fit and making sure the prescription number is entered correctly. An online eyeglasses retailer wanted to perform research to learn more about their customers’ online journey and behaviour when trying to purchase eyeglasses on their website.

For example, did customers complete a purchase easily and without any snags? If they did hit snags and couldn’t complete their purchase, what did they do next? What was their propensity to return to the site again later if they left without making a purchase?

To answer these questions, we recruited a group of prescription glasses wearers who had bought online before, as well as some who hadn’t. They agreed to participate in three months of longitudinal studies.

We used an app which allowed us to share tasks and collaborate with the participants. The app meant users could create mood boards to highlight where they were considering buying their glasses from and why. Screensharing meant we could watch the users on our clients’ as well as their competitor’s websites going through the decision-making process and listen to their feedback in real-time.

Ultimately, because we allowed the users to buy glasses, we could feel all of the anxiety, pain, and pleasure they experienced in making sure they got the right product, right through to receiving the product.

Our longitudinal studies uncovered plenty of useful data confirming some previously held opinions while proving others were unfounded, and also adding new findings.

For example, all the users understood their prescription and were comfortable inputting it into the site. The previous belief that this was a highly anxious point for users was dispelled.

However, the size of frame proved to be something users were totally unfamiliar with and had never considered. This wasn’t mentioned by any of the users, but it was the biggest reason for disappointment when they received their order.

In addition to these insights, users who ordered a ‘free second pair’ typically chose sunglasses, but they found the sunglasses purchase journey difficult. As a result, an attempt to offer something free turned into a friction point that caused users to drop out.

We took these longitudinal insights, and we built through a series of tests and experiences that reduced customer anxiety and increased conversion rates.

Online catalogue retailer makes paying online easier

An online catalogue retailer offers credit to customers and allows them to pay their outstanding bill online. When they do, they can buy more items on credit, up to their credit limit. So it’s critical that customers be able to pay their bill quickly and easily in order to increase their lifetime value.

We recruited customers to participate in longitudinal studies to learn more about their experiences when paying balances online. The goal was to find out how easy it is to pay their bill online and whether they came back to the site to make more purchases after doing so. If they didn’t come back, why not?

After several weeks of longitudinal studies, we identified some things that could quickly be changed to make paying bills online easier and some things that we wanted to test. One problem was that some customers didn’t know where to go to pay their bill after logging in and didn’t recognize the bill pay button on the main menu.

Learning from the insights gathered over the extended period, we ran multiple experiments that focused on making it easier for customers to pay their bills online and to increase their return purchase frequency. These experiments resulted in significant uplift in revenue.

Longitudinal studies can yield useful insights

Longitudinal research is more difficult and expensive since it takes place over a long period of time, and you have to continually incentivize customers to participate. But the insights and data you can gather from longitudinal studies can be extremely valuable in improving the customers research and buying experience and growing revenue for the business if it’s done right.

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