Customer Surveys: Your Path to Discovering New eCommerce Revenue Opportunities

After reading an article about Christine Day, CEO of lululemon athletica, I was impressed at the great lengths she goes to listen to her customers. On a weekly basis she stands inside one of her many retail stores and observes what patrons are taking into the fitting room, talking about, and complaining about.

From that channel–among many others–she keeps her finger on the pulse of exactly what her customers want from her retail chain.

But it’s a slightly different story when you are trying to drive sales on a website and have no direct contact with your patrons. You know what your best-selling products and services are, but how can you discover new areas of opportunity?

By surveying your past and current customers, you can gain valuable insight into your target market and begin the process of delivering new products, services, and website content that they’ll buy and/or share the heck out of with their friends. Here’s how!

Design Your Survey

If your website has been around for a while, there’s a good chance you have a large enough database to get good feedback from. It’s usually necessary to offer a sweepstakes giveaway to get survey responses, but it’s totally worth the time, effort, and cost.

When putting a survey together, here’s the strategy I’ve found to be the most effective in getting a high response rate and the market intelligence you need to move forward:

Offer a Compelling Prize

You’ll only get customers to fill out the survey if they can get something in return. This might be credit to your ecommerce store or a gift card to a popular website. You might award the first hundred survey respondents with a $10 gift card to create urgency and then put all respondents into the hat for the grand prize giveaway.

When iPods were hot, we gave away an iPod. When iPads were hot, we gave away a couple of iPads. What’s cutting edge in tech or in your customers’ social sphere? Give one or more away.

Include Sweepstakes Rules

All sweepstakes are required by law to have rules. You can grab a set of rules from a number of sites across the web. Just make sure you set appropriate limitations—like winners can only be past or current customers. Otherwise you run the risk of entrants that could give you inaccurate feedback.

Ask the Right Questions

Only ask questions that you can take action on. Staying specific will: when brainstorming questions, your first idea might be, “What do you think about our products?” but you should really ask, “What popular brands are we missing from our selection?”

Don’t Ask Too Many Questions

You want the most bang for your buck but that’s doesn’t mean respondents will spend 20 minutes answering 50 questions. Keep it short, like 8 questions max depending on your prize. The bigger the prize, the more patience your customers will have.

Write A Short Email and Killer Subject Line

Since you’ll be contacting subscribers cold, the subject line has to be compelling and the email content short and to the point. Don’t worry if your first draft isn’t that good—take time to brainstorm effective subject lines and don’t stop until you’ve written at least three of them.

For one survey I put together, I wanted to use a subject line like: “Take a 60 second survey for a chance to win an iPad.” To ensure it was 60 seconds or less, I had a few friends who knew nothing about the subject matter take the survey and they both completed it in less than a minute. That subject line got us over a 60% response rate and more than enough results to base decisions on.

Analyze the Responses and Take Action

One survey I put together tried to find out if subscribers paying for an inexpensive service would be interested in a more expensive premium offering. When the responses we analyzed indicated that they would be interested in an upsell, we started to promote offerings at a higher price point.

And not to sabotage my own post, but the survey I mentioned above ended up not being very successful in the long run. While the results indicated that we should offer higher priced services, the ones we started offering were too expensive even though the survey results indicated the expensive services would gain traction.

The best long-term results I’ve had come from asking about new products or services very similar in price to those already offered. While respondents might tell you they’re interested in more expensive product lines, their behavior usually proves that they aren’t.

And don’t forget to put a very short deadline on the sweepstakes!

Tools You’ll Need for an Effective Survey

You need two tools to measure the success of your survey: online survey software and an email marketing program.

Survey Software

There are a lot of survey software options out there but the most popular one seems to be SurveyMonkey. Software like this will enable you to write your questions, delete them or reorder them after their written.

It will also give you key metrics on survey responses, how many viewed the survey and how many actually took it.

And remember: don’t use the first draft of your survey questions or the original order. You’ll think of better questions your second time around—use the first round to just get your questions down on paper then edit from there.

Sample Size Calculator

It’s okay to analyze your responses and get a gut-level feel from the responses to determine if you should add products or services to capitalize on new revenue opportunities. However, if you want to ensure that the data matches your intuition, use a basic calculator like this one to ensure your sample size will give you a high enough confidence level to make an informed decision.

Then you have an idea of how many responses you’ll need based on the size of your target demographic. For example, if your target demographic is a 1,000,000 and you want a relatively accurate reading, the calculator will tell you that you need about 120 respondents. Again, your gut might tell you to go for it but if the numbers don’t match up, you might want to rethink your strategy.

Email Marketing Software

The email marketing program you choose should tell you how many email opens you got as well as your click through rate. These are essential metrics to knowing how well-written your email subject line and email copy were.

With a service like MailChimp, you get both survey and email marketing software in one package. And MailChimp gives you full access and unlimited emails for free up to 2,000 list members.


To make an informed decision when discovering new revenue opportunities, customer surveys are an effective means for gaining market intelligence from those who already love your products and services. Reward them with the chance to win a nice prize, and they’ll tell you a lot of what you need to know to take the necessary steps to increase the revenue of your ecommerce site.