Using Focus Groups to Improve Sales in Your Online Shop

focus groups

Focus groups can be a great way for businesses to get consumer perspectives on the commercial elements of their products and services. There are a number of things you can get feedback on, which can lead to great improvements in your business’s performance. Today, we’ll take a look at what you should consider before taking on this project.

Here's what you can expect to read about:

  1. What is a focus group?
  2. What are the advantages of running a focus group?
  3. What are the disadvantages of running a focus group?
  4. Tips for running a focus group
    1. What kind of participants should take part?
    2. Finding participants for your focus group
    3. Prepare with intention
    4. What is your role in the focus group?
    5. Types of focus groups

What is a focus group?

A focus group is made up of a few individuals (7-10 people) that fit a company’s target audience. The group, usually led by a moderator, is asked a number of questions in order to reveal their opinions about an element (or multiple elements) of a business. After gathering this (qualitative) feedback, the company will analyse the results of the focus groups in order to optimise their business and how it will be perceived/used by the target audience.

A focus group can be set up in order to test multiple elements of a business. For example, a product may be shown to the focus group before it is released to the general public. Other focus groups might want to analyse shopper behaviour on a website.

No matter what is tested, the point of running a focus group is to analyse feedback from a sample size of the “ideal customer” in order to make the experience even better for the target audience.

Recommended reading:
Creating a Buyer Persona to Better Understand Your Customers

What are the advantages of running a focus group?

Running a market research focus group, as you can imagine, can bring a lot of benefits to your business (or practically any business!). Here are some of the advantages of running a focus group:

Hands on and direct feedback

Focus groups usually give participants the opportunity to physically interact with a product. This allows company’s to actually see how their audience actually uses the products in question.

That means, you can see their first impressions, as well as their comprehension of the product. It can be very informative to observe the non-verbal reactions people have to your products. Do they struggle with it in the beginning? Do they figure it out quickly?

Of course, the verbal reactions are also important and that’s a big part of the process. Being able to get direct feedback from your audience is invaluable. Having the opportunity to ask follow up questions directly to those users can give you incredible insights into the minds of your intended customers.

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You’re also getting this feedback straight from the horse’s mouth. Not only is it more accurate than reading a text, but you’re getting this feedback quickly. That means you can make decisions about your next steps more quickly as well.

Opportunity to optimise products before launch

If you’re a company that sells their own products, you know the production costs can be very expensive. Manufacturing products in bulk can be a great way to save money on production, but if the product isn’t optimised beforehand, this could be costly to your business.

Having consumers test your product before you go into full-scale production can potentially save your company lots of time and money.

Recommended reading:
What is A/B Testing and Why Your Online Shop Should Be Doing It

Affordable

Focus groups can often be fairly inexpensive. They can be run by the company themselves or hire an external company to them. However, the costs involved are not much. In most cases, you’ll need a room, some time, and some kind of payment for the participants’ time. These things generally depend on how you want to run them. For example, do you plan to do any follow-up interviews? Do you want to interview multiple groups of participants?

What are the disadvantages of running a focus group?

While there are many advantages to running a focus group, let’s see what some of the disadvantages are:

Managing group dynamics

One of the biggest problems when running a focus group is the fact that people are in a group. It’s basically common knowledge that people behave differently in groups than they do alone or in one-on-one situations. When in bigger groups, there are a few things that can happen.

For example, there may be a dominant personality in the group. They might be more willing to express their opinion than the other participants. That in itself might not necessarily be a bad thing. However, this can potentially affect the group’s thoughts as a whole.

focus group argument

Source: shutterstock.com/Monkey Business Images

The concept of “group think” can have a negative impact when it comes to getting authentic responses to your questions. In essence, group think is when one opinion gets adopted by the group even if others don’t necessarily agree.

Another issue in the group dynamic is managing the conversation. Sometimes, one question might lead to a deep discussion or debate. This can be good, unless this particular topic is not really of interest to your business. Since these focus groups are limited to a certain amount of time, you’ll want to make sure the conversation keeps flowing and covers all the important topics that you want to research.

Small groups might not represent the entire market

As was mentioned earlier, focus groups tend to be around 7-10 people. This should often cover your customer persona pretty well, but at the end of the day, it’s still just 10 people.

If you have a dominant participant who really affects the dynamic of the group, it might not be worth putting too much weight on the results of the group. This means that you may want to hold multiple focus groups in order to get a wider pool of opinions.

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Tips for running a focus group

There are many things that go into running a successful focus group. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

What kind of participants should take part in your focus group?

Before looking for your focus group participants, you’ll want to be sure about a few things within your own business. For starters, think about what your unique selling proposition (USP) is. Being clear on that will make you also clear about who your target audience is.

excited woman on tablet

Source: shutterstock.com/fizkes

Once you know who your target audience is, it can be helpful to create a buyer persona. In short, this is a profile of your ideal customer. It is a fictional character who personifies your perfect customer. The more details you have of this person (e.g. name, hobbies, home life, etc.), the easier it is to think about who you want to participate in your market research.

Remember that you don’t want too many participants either. Having more than 10 people can be a bit chaotic. It’s possible that some participants won’t really participate if they don’t have the opportunity to speak.

Finding participants for your focus group

Knowing who you want to participate is one thing, but finding them is a whole other topic.

One way to attract focus group participants is to reach out to your existing customers. There’s a good chance they fit your target audience because they’ve already bought your products.

If you have social media accounts with followers, you might want to create a post showing that you are looking for feedback. Again, considering they are already following your accounts, there’s a good chance they fit your audience and that they will want to give their feedback on your products.

On some platforms, like Reddit, you can post in certain subreddits in order to find participants. These are also highly likely to be a good fit since they are actively choosing to follow that particular subreddit.

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Tip: Keep in mind that time is money. If you want people’s time, you’ll have to incentivise them to take part. In most cases, that will mean offering them cold, hard cash. But you might want to try offering them discounts or credits to your shop. If these are people already following you on social media, there’s a good chance that might actually be of interest to them.

Prepare with intention

focus group taking place

Source: shutterstock.com/ESB Professional

Although they can be relatively cheap and informative, running focus group interviews can get chaotic quickly if they aren’t organised properly. That is why preparation is important.

Have an agenda

By creating an agenda for your focus group interviews, you will have structure and a flow to your meeting. A typical focus group agenda might look like this:

  1. Welcome the group: Introduce yourselves (you may or may not want your company to stay anonymous in order to not affect the honesty of your participants)

  2. Have the participants introduce themselves: Have a brief period for the users to introduce themselves. You may want to limit their answers in order to limit the level of influence they have over the other participants. On the flip side, you may get more insights into how well this participant fits your persona.

  3. Reaffirm consent: It is important that you have everyone’s consent (on paper). They’re answers will be used for market research and might be shared with a third party. Get the legal topics out of the way.

  4. Establish ground rules: You may want to confirm some of the rules of the meeting. People should not talk over each other. Warn them if controversial topics appear. Confirm their anonymity.

  5. Question time: Now is the time to ask your questions. Again, structure and flow is important, especially if you are doing market research for multiple elements of your business.

  6. Wrap up time: Get any final thoughts that participants would like to share. Thank them for their time and wrap things up.

  7. Analyse the feedback: You will probably want to have an initial meeting with your colleagues to discuss what occurred. Of course, an in-depth analysis will take place afterwards.

Preparing your questions

When it’s time prepare your questions, keep in mind what are the most important elements that you want feedback on. Do you want to get feedback on a marketing campaign? On the pricing? The packaging? The product? On the website?

man preparing for a meeting

Source: shutterstock.com/Roman Samborskyi

However, it’s also important to keep some flexible time for discussions. With a well-picked audience, you might end up getting some valuable feedback that you didn’t intend on getting. For example, you may want feedback on a specific product, but your participants might make some comments on the packaging and the unboxing process.

There should also be a flow from one topic to the next. Start with the easier questions to let them “loosen up”. Once they are more comfortable, start getting into the deeper, more detailed questions.

It’s also important to keep an eye on the time as you don’t want to get carried away on one particular topic.

Recommended reading:
How to Create a Survey for Your Customers

What is your role in the focus group?

From the business side of things, it might seem like your job is to simply ask questions and observe the participants’ answers. You’re probably aware of where this is going…

Moderator role

There should be one moderator present at the focus group interviews. This person should be viewed as the host of the meeting. They will lead the way with introductions, instructions, and general moderation.

Remember what was mentioned earlier: “group think” and the influence of dominant personalities? It will be the job of the moderator to make sure these things don’t happen or don’t get out of control. They will need to insure that everyone’s opinions are heard and that conversations don’t get too far off topic.

Note-takers

While the moderator will be listening to and, in many cases, responding to answers with follow-up questions, there should be a note-taker present as well.

This will allow the moderator to focus on being present with the participants. They can also focus on their responsibilities as mentioned above.

The note-taker, as you can probably guess, should focus on taking notes on what is taking place. That might include their own personal observations. Generally speaking, they will not be actively engaged with the participants.

Types of focus groups

There are a few directions you can go when you consider what type of focus group you want to run.

Online vs offline focus groups

These days, it’s quite common for focus groups to take place online. There are lots of benefits to this. For example, you can find users from different locations, who might have different feedback for you. Theoretically, you can also get more participants to take part when they are conducted online.

However, online focus groups only allow you to read facial expressions. Being in a video chat might inhibit some of their natural reactions as well since they might feel more observed than usual.

confused woman

Source: shutterstock.com/Cast Of Thousands

In-person focus groups allow you to observe a user’s body language more. Depending on the topic, it might be more natural to have users use the product in an open environment rather than in front of their computer.

Online focus groups also mean that the technology has to work. This may depend on the level of technology you’re bringing to the table, but it may also depend on your audience’s comfort with that technology. If your target audience is an older demographic, they may not feel totally comfortable logging into an app to take part in your market research focus group.

Smaller vs bigger focus groups

The size of the focus group can also have an influence on how successful it is. Bigger groups might give you more opinions, but as we’ve mentioned, this may also lead to certain people dominating the conversation. Obviously, an introverted person might have as much or even more valuable insights than a more extroverted person.

The problem might not even be the personalities. Time can also be a factor. It’s simply harder to get detailed answers from 10 people in an hour than 5 people in the same amount of time.

Two-way focus groups

In a two-way focus group, you have 2 groups of participants, each with their own moderator. However, the first group answers questions normally, while the second group actually observes and comments on the first groups answers.

This is a possible solution to the “group think” issue mentioned earlier. The second group will not necessarily feel the same pressure to agree with a single opinion. Rather, they are asked to give their opinions on those opinions.

Client participation

When it comes to client participation, focus group market research can go in two directions; take part or don’t.

What that means is that the client can actively respond to feedback when it is given. This can guide a conversation and be really helpful.

On the other hand, the business in question may want to sit back and just let the moderator and participants lead the way.

There is also the question of whether the business wants to reveal themselves to the participants. In other words, will the participants know which company they are actually providing feedback to? If the focus group, for example, wants to compare competitor products, it might be useful to stay anonymous as to not influence the answers of the participants.

Conclusion

Using focus groups to do market research is a great way to get insights from your (potential) customers. This can help you optimise your products and other business elements to improve sales for your business. The key is to plan accordingly by knowing what you want to ask and making sure that you execute the game plan when the time comes.

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29/07/22
Alon Eisenberg

Alon Eisenberg

Alon Eisenberg has been the Content Manager UK at Trusted Shops since 2017. He graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor's degree in Communications in 2004.

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