The market research field before the Internet, used to be just about figuring out what customers preferred,bought , the media they watched. The traditional technique of gathering information was based on statistical sampling ( you had to ask a sample of people from your target market) and then tried to predict what the the rest of your market would do. All this changes with web analytics at least for your web customers.
Once you start using Google Analytics and other web visitor analytics programs, you start appreciating the huge customer insight possibilities from these programs. In the "brick" world let's say you have a retail clothing store in a mall with shelves of clothing. People seem to be always walking into the store and many folks are just there to check out your stuff. Even when you ask them (the classic how can I help you) they seem to respond the classic – I am just looking…you are forced to look away and give them space.
Contrast this "brick store" situation to the website of the same store. Now Analytics tells you a great deal about the behavior of each visitor to your store. These include how the customer:
- Found your store ( Internet search keywords ,advertising, direct to website)
- What products the customer looked at and how/where the customer left the store or exited- whether or not they bought something
Just the two pieces of information above can help you make changes and see if they work. Let's say that several visitors look at a product and then leave it. Maybe just adding better pictures, clearer descriptions would help- try it !
Now to do the above research for a brick store is a huge deal. And no matter how well you sample and design your surveys and focus groups, you are really asking your respondents to recall what they did or are likely to do, not capturing what they actually do. Customer paid panel studies capture actual behavior but only what they buy not what products they pick from the shelf and put back! You would however, get pretty good results from well designed surveys,focus groups, customer panels but there is this huge cost when you compare to Web analytics which is free for the most part.
Also as businesses change their web storefront and content to more closely match what their visitors are looking for – they help improve the ability of the search engines to find them by better matching search queries to the offer. The better search engine is the one that gets you what you are looking for and the store/content provider who delivers what the searcher is looking for tends to be higher on search engines. Gives a whole new opportunity for the market research industry and web marketers.