How Retailers Can Use Web Data for Product Development


In the fast-paced digital world of 2019, product updates are rolled out in quick succession by retailers both big and small. Every business sells a product or service and must constantly work to improve that product or service to stay ahead of the competition. Successful companies use information and feedback gathered from customers to guide their product development strategies; and according to Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, 60% of enterprise business leaders say real-time customer analytics is extremely important today. Thanks to the prolific use of the internet, one of the largest sources of real-time customer data that businesses can use to guide product development is the World Wide Web.

Why use web data to inform product development?

Without using data to guide product development, businesses often end up developing products for themselves and implementing innovations and improvements that the business would like to see made to the product, and not based on the target customer. 

Consumers always have an opinion when it comes to the products they use and, whether they’ve expressed these opinions directly to the business or not, consumers are sharing these opinions online. These opinions can and should help guide the direction of any business’s product development program.

Retailers can  use the information gathered from product reviews in conjunction with the information surrounding pricing and availability of their own products to determine the cause of low sales rates. Retailers should ask themselves, “if a product doesn’t sell when the price is lowered, are bad reviews to blame, or is the product not aligned with what consumers want?” If so, retailers should note what these reviews are saying, and work to implement product improvements based on this feedback. On the other hand, if a product suddenly starts selling better than it has previously, retailers should look for any new reviews or news coverage of the product that might have affected the consumers’ desire to purchase the product.

In addition to the insights provided by customer reviews gathered from the web, using web data to drive product development is beneficial to retailers because it’s less intrusive to the customer. Typically, when businesses want to find out what consumers think about their products, they conduct surveys or hire an advertising/marketing agency to conduct focus groups. These types of surveys and focus groups have the following setbacks:

    • They require effort on the part of the customer. As shown by Medallia’s recent problem, this puts a sour taste in the mouth of the consumer when they think about the business and recall the effort and lengths they had to go to in order to provide feedback on a product – especially one they might not have enjoyed using.
    • Businesses can miss crucial product feedback depending on who is conducting the survey or focus group, and the methods involved. For example, consumers may be reluctant to share highly negative feedback with the brand if a brand representative is present during the survey or focus group.
    • The consumers selected for the focus group might not even be active users of the product or the right target audience that the company is attempting to target through new product updates and improvements.

Where to gather web data for product development insights

So, where should retailers look for this highly insightful web data that can influence their product development roadmaps? The short answer: wherever the customers spend their time online.

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be treated like a bulletin board of customer sentiments and information. The opinions expressed on social media have the added benefit of being “liked” or “re-shared” by other users, which can help a business gauge the validity of a single user’s opinion. If an opinion is shared or liked by hundreds or thousands of users that match the target audience demographic, then the opinion has been validated by the targeted customer base and should be heavily considered for future product updates and rollouts.

Product reviews may seem like an obvious source of web data that can drive product development, but many businesses make the mistake of solely directing their web data harvesting efforts toward reviews of their own products. Retailers should also collect web data from competitor product reviews. That will help to inform their company on what their products are already doing better than the competitors’, as well as what extra features and updates their competitors’ products may already be implementing.

Blogs are also a great web data source to uncover customer opinions. As of January, 57% of the world’s population (4.3B people) use the internet – more than ever before. With so many people online, there’s an almost certainty that a dedicated blog exists for every industry, product, hobby, and service. Retailers should find the blogs that their customers flock to and pay attention to what they say. 

Staying up to date on current events is crucial for product development, making news articles a prime source of web data for retailers and product designers. Businesses should not only pay attention to what consumers are already saying about their products, but also to the news media to preemptively update and improve their products by noticing economic and societal changes occuring in real time and using those changes to inform product development and better serve the customer.

The end result of harnessing web data for product development

By harnessing the informative power of web data to drive product development, the retailer can make the consumer feel understood. Not only is the consumer happy with their privacy, but because the business now has a better product that consumers will enjoy even more, customers are likely to share their satisfaction with the product in online reviews and posts.

What consumers want from their products changes and fluctuates over time. Recently, the general public has shown an increasing desire for “natural” and organic products. In the past two years, facial cosmetic products have jumped from 43% paraben-free to 54% and sales of products with “natural” claims increased by 12%. This shows that when businesses pay attention to consumer feedback and trends it can increase sales and revenue.

By gaining insights into the customer through publicly available web data, the business’ product development team can be presented as market experts that perfectly understand their target customer. Merely 27.5% of e-commerce retailers are currently collecting customer data. This positions even small retailers that prioritize gathering and analyzing customer web data to have a huge advantage over their competitors

Understanding the customer doesn’t need to be a guessing game where the business must assume what the average customer wants based on self-selective individual customer feedback. It also shouldn’t be an assumption based on the results of a survey conducted with a small sample of the customer base, which is then extrapolated and applied to the entire customer population. Through modern data science practices and technology like Web Data Integration, businesses can find out exactly what consumers are saying about their products and implement changes and updates in real-time to meet the changing needs of the wider consumer population.

-Gary Read, CEO of

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