Qualitative Research & Its Role For New eCommerce Brands

Qualitative Research

It’s common in eCommerce for decision-makers to focus purely on numbers. Teams rely on rates and graphs, looking for ways to make numbers move continuously up and to the right. Numbers drive decisions, and establish goals. When these companies come to Anatta, most of the time they want to make more money, increase registrations, increase time on page, etc. 

The conversation is all about the numbers.

Rarely do teams come to us and say, “I want to create a beautiful experience by tapping into the user’s emotions to foster trust.” In other words, most of the time they don’t understand qualitative data. The problem is, quantitative data only tells you one story: what happened. Meanwhile, qualitative data tells you why something happened.

What made a customer choose your store over the competitor?

Why did the user abandon their cart last minute?

Why did the customer choose a subscription instead of a one-time purchase?

Answering these questions requires an investment in gathering qualitative data. In this article, we’ll discuss how to use qualitative research as an emerging brand.

Emerging brands

What is an emerging brand?

In eCommerce, these companies are usually making less than $10 million per year in online revenue. Emerging brands have at least one acquisition or marketing channel. They’re considered upstarts within their industry.

Often emerging brands are in the phase of testing and development of the product and site. It’s a time of experimentation. They must measure performance, see what works. Most of that falls under quantitative research. 

But emerging brands almost must ask another series of questions. These have to do with understanding their customers, finding new opportunities, and investing deeper into challenges. They need to ask why

Qualitative vs. quantitative research in eCommerce 

Quantitative data tells you what is happening. Qualitative data tells you why it’s happening.

But the two research tools contain several other differences as well. For one thing, to make reliable predictions based on quantitative metrics, you need a lot of website traffic. Quantitative testing methods like A/B testing are significantly less reliable when you only receive a few thousand visitors per month.

Also, building a website purely based on quantitative feedback can really hurt your brand. If you continually tweak the color and style of your website to eke out a slightly better conversion rate, your website will be ugly, pure and simple. 

Meanwhile, qualitative research requires only a small number of participants and helps you connect on an emotional level with the customer you serve. That means delivering a beautiful, memorable website that’s a delight to use. 

Qualitative testing is a method of research to use if you want to touch the human essence, attach the human aspect of the buyer. 

In summary:

Quantitative research   requires a big number of users. You need thousands of website visitors to achieve statistical significance.

Qualitative data — you can get 80% of the benefit through just 5-8 users. 

Why emerging brands often ignore qualitative research

The benefits of qualitative insights are clear. You can hear how the customer talks about your product. You can understand the reason behind their decisions. Qualitative research lets you put a face and voice to otherwise empty numbers.

The problem is, gathering qualitative research is a lot more expensive than gathering quantitative research. 

Most quantitative research is gathered by simply switching on an app. You connect Google Analytics to your website, and like magic you see basic information about how people are interacting with various pages. 

On the other hand, qualitative research requires budget, effort, and time. Companies get uncomfortable with all three of those words. That’s why qualitative research believers must often push for the opportunity to sit down with customers, to hear their challenges, consider their preferences, and peer beyond the numbers to understand who our customers really are.

Fortunately, over the years gathering qualitative research has become significantly more cost effective. In the next section, I’ll break down some of the best (and most affordable) ways to gather qualitative research.

Techniques for gathering qualitative data

If you owned a brick and mortar store, you could receive qualitative feedback by simply standing outside the front door and asking passersby for their feedback. Getting similar feedback online requires a more roundabout approach. But it’s equally important.

So how can emerging eCommerce brands begin leveraging qualitative research? Here are several common techniques. 

Post-purchase survey: This is a brief survey that we put after the checkout and after the customer buys a product. It includes just one or two — no more than three — questions. You can learn about why they purchased your product, ask about their shopping experience, and more. Tools like HotJar make this survey easy to set up on most eCommerce websites.

User interviews: Set up calls with users at least once per month. Get on the phone to hear about their shopping experience, which products they enjoy most, how they learned about your company, and more. Simple conversations can produce some of the highest quality feedback. 

Heat mapping: Heat maps track a user’s mouse movements on the page, resulting in a blend of both quantitative and qualitative data. For example, on the heat map, you can see how far the user has scrolled down the page. The distance traveled is quantitative data. The fact that the user is or isn’t scrolling is qualitative feedback because you’re getting a glimpse into an individual’s behavior.

Remote usability studies: In this case, you want to see how users interact with your website in real time. This means getting on video conference calls and letting the user share their screen, as you watch them interact with your website. Usability tests can be performed over basic video conferencing tools like Zoom, or with more robust tools like usertesting.com

Focus groups: This is the classic example of qualitative research. Focus groups involve seeing how people interact with your product in a group setting. However, I don’t usually recommend this approach. Yes, focus groups are a traditional method for collecting qualitative feedback, but we must be aware that participants influence one another’s feedback. Every response influences the subsequent responses, making it harder to find the feedback you’re looking for. Ideally, you want to get one-on-one with a user.


Metrics — analytics or A/B testing — are indirect indicators of the user experience. When you have data, you see it with a grain of salt. But just because you’re achieving certain results does not mean the user experience is amazing. Quantitative research is necessary to achieve an optimal user experience, but it only begins to tell the story of what’s really going on. 

Qualitative research fills in the gaps, adding color and story to the outline that numbers create. It’s an art to appreciate quantitative data while also embracing the human experience. Hopefully this article will help you understand your customer with greater clarity. 

Did you enjoy this article? You may also enjoy our article about the importance of choosing an eCommerce niche.

  • avatar
    Victor Bejar
  • Victor is Anatta’s Creative and UX Director. Over the past 10 years, he’s worked with over 100 major brands, like Yeti, Le Creuset, Everlast, and Rebecca Minkoff. He was the second eCommerce UX professional in the U.S. certified by Baymard Institute and is also multi-certified by NN/g. With an obvious passion for team synergy, Victor has built a user-centric UX practice that integrates data and design.