Chapter 3 How to Conduct Online Market Research for Your Ecommerce Business

Tracey Wallace / 7 min read

How to Conduct Online Market Research for Your Ecommerce Business

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Conducting market research for your ecommerce business ideas is not only wise, it’s essential.

Taking the time to go through this process will help you uncover whether or not there is a healthy demand around your business idea.

No matter how stellar you feel your idea is, you’ll want to spend some serious time evaluating market demand and gathering hard facts before you order 2,000 product units or sign any contracts.

In this chapter, you’ll learn to use your startup capital strategically.

When completing market research around your small business idea, there are several different methods you can use.

However, it’s always smart to use a combination of tactics and the best online business tools to be certain you have an accurate picture of your market and make the best business decision possible.

1. Conduct keyword research.

Looking for a super easy, fast and free way to get a feel for your product or business demand?

The Google Keyword Planner helps you visualize how many people are searching for your business or product idea during any given time period.

google keyword planner

An added bonus is that this tool will provide you with various related keywords which can help you generate ideas around which words to use in your:

  • Product name
  • Descriptions
  • Blog posts
  • Website as a whole.

Conducting keyword research will tell you what consumers are searching for all over the world.

If no one is looking for what you want to sell, that’s not a good sign.

On the other hand, if thousands of searches are being done for keywords closely related to your product, you might want to take the next step sooner rather than later.

How to Use Google AdWords Keyword Planner:
  1. Login.
  2. Go to the keyword planner tool page.
  3. Use the “Search for new keywords” option.
  4. Type in your desired keywords, each on a different line. You can also upload a list.
  5. View search volume results to target a specific, relevant keyword and group.
  6. Browse additional keyword suggestions to find new, relevant keywords to target.

Here is a photo breakdown of the process.

First, go to the Google AdWords planner tool and use the first drop down to type in your keywords.

I am selling bed pillows online at Doris, so I use:

  • Thin pillows
  • Bed pillows
  • Firm pillows

Then, looking at the results – I can see that “bed pillow” is too broad. Instead, I should focus on thin or firm pillow because these keywords:

  • Have the highest search volume with the
  • Lowest competition and
  • are the most relevant

I also browse additional recommended or related keywords and find a whole new group of terms I should also target.

What do I mean by “target?”

These are the terms I want to pepper in to my:

  • Site copy
  • Product page copy
  • Meta titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Social media copy
  • And more.

The Long Term Benefits of SEO

Our use of good SEO practices and Google AdWords has been particularly helpful to our growth as a company.

We have been fortunate in that we identified early on the key search terms that brought customers to out website and ultimately fine tuned our SEO and Google AdWords campaigns to accurately reflect these search terms.

– Ken Sadowsky, Co-Owner, Ribbon Warehouse

2. Find trends and put the big picture in perspective.

Another cool Google tool you can use is Google Trends.

Do a search for a product or business idea, and then view the directional search demand for that keyword throughout the past few years (you can go all the way back to 2005, as of this writing).

You can also compare the volume of searches between a few terms, geographic locales and even view how particular events affect search popularity.

Here’s how that looks for my original term: thin pillow.

3. Examine social media.

Examining social media is a great way to start understanding the volume of conversations and mentions around your business idea.

Social media also helps uncover aspects of your target market that can inform your marketing efforts later.

By probing into all of the different social media channels out there, you’ll start to identify how potential customers talk about your product or industry as a whole.

This will help you learn their language so you can leverage it later via your product descriptions, blog posts, ads, social media and promotions.

Using the language of your target customers will help drive quality traffic to your site, build a loyal customer base and increase conversions.

  • Look into hashtags and what’s trending overall.
  • Use Instagram’s search tool the same way you did Google Trends.
  • Hashtag and type in your product to see how many others are using that hashtag, related hashtags and popular images.

You’ll want to use similar keywords and images on your social media accounts as well as on your webstore to engage the already socially active community.

Power in the Community

Our most successful marketing tactic to date has been engaging with the community on Instagram. We put a lot of time into original photography and growing our relationships with our Instagram followers – and it works wonders.

– Cody Martin, Co-Founder, Option Gray

4. Build an online store and test the waters to gain momentum.

Dive in and open an online store.

You can do this long before your product or service is ever developed to start driving traffic or even to collect some pre-orders.

A good ecommerce platform will have this option built-in to its product pages.

Here is what it looks like on BigCommerce:

But how easy is this to setup?

Here’s what it looks like on the backend:

And here is the click of a button to set it up and live:

You can even add in expected release dates, and schedule for it to be live.

This tactic can help you gain immediate feedback from your target consumer or gauge demand for your product before manufacturing or buying inventory.

Create some ads on Google and Facebook and spread the news via word-of-mouth.

You’ll be able to start attracting potential customers who can provide feedback, sign up for your mailing list, or be placed on a waitlist to be notified when the product has launched.

The investment community is more likely give money to a company that has shown proven market demand by collecting pre-orders or signups from real consumers.

A word of caution: make sure your website is clear in communicating that your product or service is not ready to ship.

Also, provide an estimated date for release and details around whether or not you will provide refunds.

You’re not trying to take people for a ride — you simply want to test the waters and gain momentum to carry you to the next step.

Routes to Building an Audience without a Product

This is tricky, but doable.

Leveraging an already existing audience to sell new product to is a great way to quickly scale a business, and there are various ways to do this.

Launch a Narrative Brand

Narrative brand’s do incredibly well online.

This is because they use content to drive organic traffic and engage audiences on social media platforms.

Casper is a great example of a narrative brand.

Their Van Winkle blog attracts hundreds and thousands of monthly readers – giving rise to the overall Casper brand and building long-term trust with readers.

But, let’s look at something a bit more realistic for startup businesses.

Spearmint Love is another brand which used a narrative long before selling any products (read more about their incredible story here).

Shari Lott started the Spearmint Baby Blog is 2009 after the birth of her first child.

The blog reviewed products and gave advice, eventually earning her thousands of Facebook and Instagram followers –– many of whom were asking her where they could buy the goods.

Three years in, Sheri decided to launch her own store, selling the items she most loved.

Today, Spearmint Love has hundreds and thousands of followers, and is about to relaunch the blog to continue educating and engaging customers for the long-haul.

Use Kickstarter or IndieGoGo

Kickstarter and IndieGoGo give you the crowdfunding platform and audience to build a customer base and an email list.

The support you garner on these sites gives you communication access and eventually product-touting people who can spread word-of-mouth marketing.

Plenty of businesses have taken this route to launch, and even use it for new product launches as well.

Native Union for instance does this on IndieGoGo.

New products are launched on that platform, and when they gain enough support, the team builds the product and launches it on their site.

Leverage Kickstarters Audience

Kickstarter has a huge customer base that wants new things and we had a new product.

We believe our teabook teas are stories and who better to tell that story than those doing it professionally and have an audience.

– Noah, Founder, Teabook Teas

5. Leverage your networks and get a temperature check.

Leveraging your digital networks is a must, including your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followings.

These folks are all potential customers who can help gauge interest, fulfill some test orders and offer valuable feedback at every step of the journey.

Make sure to let them know you want real, honest feedback, not that sugar-coated stuff that serves no purpose.

Here are some great forums to get honest feedback:

Your Network. Your Community. Your Value.

Do everything in your power to create as much value as you can.

All facets of your business can create value, not just the product that you sell.

  • Giving back to your community creates value.
  • Inspiring others creates value.
  • Providing opportunities to others creates value.

The more value that you create, the more buoyant your business will become.

– Jason Harrington, Owner, Lullaby Sound

6. Scope the competition.

You’ll want to take a look at your competition at this point in time to get a lay of the land.

Here are a couple questions to start you off:

  • Is there a clear owner of the space?
  • Is the market saturated with competitors?
  • Can you spot a weakness in the competition that you can take advantage of?

Don’t get discouraged if the market feels full at first glance.

That just means you’ll want to take a deeper look to see if each site is actually performing well or if there is an opportunity for improvement.

So often those businesses that come to market first make mistakes in the uncharted territory.

Think about MySpace and Facebook or even Yahoo and Google. Often, the second-comer wins customer loyalty.

No Product is Without Competition

People buy your story and your product. Not many products or services are without competition, and the consumer has many choices.

You have to be relevant through concentrating upon the market you like to serve. It shows when you like your customers and provide a product that meets or exceeds their expectations.

We strive for those goals daily and try to focus our team to be part of it.

– M. Carey, Co-owner, Spartan Blades

7. Google it.

This may seem obvious, but many potential entrepreneurs don’t search for market data or surveys on their industry or specific business idea before launching.

By completing just a few quick searches, you can end up with a vivid picture of the market opportunity for your idea, which will help to justify or trash your proposed product.

Here are a few ecommerce and retail industry publications to check out:

In the next chapter, you’ll learn how to categorize your competitors before you conduct a complete competitive analysis.

Want more insights like this?

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Table of Contents

IntroHow to (Realistically) Start an Online Ecommerce Business That Actually Grows in 2019
Chapter 1 Learn Ways to Find Niche Products and Start Selling Online in 2019 (Get Educated Before You Start)
Chapter 2 How to Evaluate Market Viability for Your Products
Chapter 3 How to Conduct Online Market Research for Your Ecommerce Business
Chapter 4 How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis for Your Online Business [with Templates]
Chapter 5 10 Online Business Laws You Need to Know for Internet Selling [Updated 2019]
Chapter 6 How to Identify and Analyze Your Target Market in 2019
Chapter 7 How to Source and Manufacture Products for Your Online Business
Chapter 8 How to Create, Setup, and Launch a Profitable Online Store (Seriously)
Chapter 9 59 Productivity Hacks for Online Small Business Owners


Tracey Wallace

Tracey Wallace

EIC, BigCommerce | Founder, Doris Sleep

Tracey Wallace is the Editor-in-Chief at BigCommerce, where she covers all things ecommerce: marketing, design, development, strategy, plus emerging trends, including omnichannel and cloud replatforming.She is also the Founder of Doris Sleep, a bed pillow company selling 100% certified recycled plastic bottle filled pillows in three custom sizes.

View all posts by Tracey Wallace

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