The Website Discovery Process: How Your Customers Can Help You Convert

The website discovery process can add value and efficiency to your new project. Learn more from Nichola Birch, Product Manager at Swanky and discovery expert.

Written By
Nichola Birch
Glass ball with inverted image of coast line and sunset; representing website discovery process.

How do you know you are doing the right thing for your ecommerce store? Will your next feature be something your customers love? Will it get them to convert? These questions plague merchants every day.

In this article, Swanky’s Product Manager, Nichola Birch, will demonstrate how important the website discovery process is. She will provide tools to help you be more confident in your decisions. Because, if your assumptions turn out to be wrong, you can pivot earlier, saving you time and money. 

What is the website discovery process?

That eureka moment. You’ve had a flash of inspiration for a great change to your business and are ready to jump on it immediately and get it live. Unfortunately, these game-changing eureka moments often do not live up to expectations when they hit the cold light of day.

Discovery adds value to the customer experience

Discovery takes a different approach. Instead of jumping straight in to build that great idea, it focuses on customers. It looks to understand what they would find valuable for you to change and then ensures this aligns with business objectives.

This focus on customers means your ideas are more likely to be loved and positively received. This is because you are only allowing yourself to contemplate ideas that bring customers value. Consequently, customer satisfaction is baked in from the start.

Discovery uses your time effectively

The website discovery process seeks to validate the assumption your customer will love these ideas early on, before you start creating anything. The benefit of not jumping in immediately is that you reduce the risk of building the wrong thing. When a new feature release doesn’t have the desired outcome, it not only means you didn’t reach your goal, it also means you’ve spent weeks or months of your team’s time, with little to show for it.

Moreover, if this change was coded, then there now might be effort required to remove that feature. Or you might have to live with the legacy of that code, which is referred to as technical debt.

Discovery proves you’re wrong – and that’s good!

Discovery front loads projects, focusing significant time before you start designing and building. Discovery validates your idea. More importantly, discovery allows for course correction, if it turns out the direction you are going in is wrong. As you’re early in the process, these pivots can happen within a week, rather than months.

The website discovery process enables you to see whether your great idea, that ‘eureka moment’, is actually something you should pursue. And if it isn’t then you can change course, saving time and money, and find the route that provides the most efficient outcome. Finding out you were wrong is now something to celebrate rather than be disappointed in.

This is the value created in discovery; knowing you are building the right website, not just that you are building a website.

Consider outcomes not outputs

So how do you start becoming a more discovery-focused business? The first step is a shift in how you think. Often merchants and ecommerce managers are measured on the things you produce, e.g. a feature or marketing campaign. These are outputs.

Instead, you should focus on the impact that activity has on your customers and business; the outcomes. Thinking in terms of outcomes unlocks the ability to ask a key discovery question, “Can we do this another way and generate similar value for our customers and business?”.

With this mindset you can now see various routes to meet your desired outcomes, rather than focusing on one specific path when you were output focused. Your horizons are now widened, opening you up to ideas which might take less time, but still produce 90% of the value we wanted in our outcome. The remaining time can then be used on another solution to support the same outcome or generate value elsewhere. A net increase in overall value created.

You may even discover, as we often do at Swanky, that there is some little known Shopify feature which supports your outcome and all you need to do is turn it on (one of the many reasons we think Shopify is a great tool!).

For example, in your shipping settings you can turn on delivery dates by adding your order processing time to the admin. This means instead of customers seeing “3-5 business days”, they see “Tuesday, November 20 – Wednesday, November 30”. Giving customers a specific delivery day is much easier for them to check if their gift will arrive in time. This is a really valuable feature if your outcome is to provide an excellent post-purchase experience for gifters.

By front-loading projects, and allowing time for discovery, you can create these moments of instant impact for your business.

Finding the opportunities

Your customers, as you can guess by the title of this article, hold a lot of the answers for where your best opportunities may be. However, you have probably heard this before and just don’t have enough time to regularly meet with them. Let me give you some tools and techniques to help you interact and learn from your customers more often and more effectively.

1. What do you already know about your customers?

Spend some time outlining your customer journey. Make sure to include interactions and experiences a customer may have before and after interacting with your business. See it from the customer’s viewpoint. What might get them to realise they need a product like yours? How do they feel when they are browsing for products? Where else might they conduct research?

Drawing or writing this out will help you get an overall view of your customer. You will get the best results if you get a few people in your team to do their own map, and then combine them. You may be surprised by the different viewpoints you have!

From here you should be able to highlight areas of the customer journey you are not so certain on. This may present an opportunity, giving you the theme for your next interview.

2. Don’t ask customers what they want

This may seem counterintuitive, but customers often don’t know what they want. Some of the best features and experiences are often ones customers didn’t even know would be useful. Our best results come when we can figure out what will provide value for our customers before they do. For example, who would have known 20 years ago that a personal phone would be a product you could not be without – and even more surprising is that you would hardly ever use it to phone someone!

Interviewer bias can also compound your learnings. This is where humans naturally want to please the person asking them questions and hence tend to give answers that may differ from their reality.

This can be even more true when asking about emotive subjects such as sustainability. Many people will be inclined to tell you that environmental factors impact their purchasing decisions. They know this is how they should morally behave, and they might even think of themselves as environmentally conscious. However, the reality may be that convenience or certain product features actually dictate what they add to their basket. It is worth noting that customers are not actively trying to deceive you, this is just a human trait within all of us, and something we need to be aware of.

To overcome this, ask customers to recall a recent purchase or decision. It is far more likely to reveal actual behaviour as customers will be less distracted by hypothetical and moralistic ideals. They are more able to accurately describe their behaviours as they are telling you about something they have actually done.

Questions are therefore best framed as “Tell me about the last time you bought a meal online” or “Tell me about the last time you realised you needed a new outfit”. This is an unbiased question which encourages long answers, rather than a short yes or no.

People like to match the length of an answer with the length of a question, and in this scenario you want lots of detail. Try and set the scene. Explain that you want to know where they were, what they were doing, how they felt. Don’t leave out any details. If you are conducting in-person research, you can encourage this by asking for more detail if they skip ahead in their timeline. For example, “When you said you visited Harvey’s Boutique, how did you come across this store? What did you type into the search engine?”.

Once you have completed the conversation, make a one-page summary of who the person was and some key learnings or quotes for future reference. Then go back to your customer journey and update this with any patterns you see.

Creating a summary page means you can easily compare interviews, spot patterns and quickly recall a particular interview months later. Atlassian have a helpful article on what this summary may look like.

3. Fitting user research into your week

User research is one of those things we all want to do more of, but often falls to the bottom of our to-do list. Below are some tools, many you may already have in your arsenal, to help you leverage customer insights on a weekly basis.

i. Behaviour analysis tools

Tools like Hotjar are some of my favourites. I could easily spend hours watching screen recordings trying to get into the customer’s brain and understand their decisions. However, it is Hotjar’s ‘Ask’ feature we are interested in here.

Using this discovery tool you can quickly throw up a 1 or 2 question survey wherever you want within the customer journey on your site. Within a short time, depending on site traffic, you should have some feedback from this survey that can bring more clarity during the website discovery process.

Okendo Connect has the added benefit of storing this survey insight within your Shopify store as customer profiles. This further helps you build your zero-party data, which you can then share with the rest of your tech stack, e.g. with Klaviyo. An extra bonus over Hotjar.


  • It can be ready in a few minutes.
  • Feedback is from your actual customers.
  • A survey can be placed at different stages in the journey to understand how these differ.


  • Requires a behaviour analysis tool.
  • Works best for short surveys.
  • Have to take what the customer responds with, unable to dig deeper if they miss out key information.
  • Can be seen as interrupting the conversion.

ii. Diary scheduling tool

Ask customers to book in time to speak to you. Tools like Hotjar or Calendly can allow you to do this, or a simple form on your site, an email or social media post. These tools take the work out of scheduling a call. Instead you can set up a regular slot, perhaps weekly, that is pre-booked with a user research call.


  • Best route to truly understanding your customers.
  • User interviews will become part of your routine.
  • A live interview means you can guide the conversation and dig into any details you find interesting.
  • Feedback from your actual customers, depending on how you promote it.
  • Shouldn’t impact conversion.


  • Commitment needed to stick to the time slot.
  • Planning the interview also needs to be put into your schedule.
  • Harder to analyse.

iii. Survey tools

This is similar to above, but now a long form survey, rather than a conversation in your calendar. You can promote this in the same way as diary scheduling, using tools like Typekit, Google Forms, Microsoft Forms, or Survey Monkey.


  • You likely already have these tools at your disposal.
  • Can ask more questions than with tools like Hotjar.
  • Could be your actual customers, depending how you promote this.
  • Easy to use.


  • Need to be careful when writing the questions so responses are not biased.
  • More questions may mean customers are less likely to complete the survey.

iv. Lookalike and targeted audiences

If you want to discover more about the acquisition phase, then customers already on your site may not be the best people to ask. This is also a useful tool if traffic on your website is low or if it has not launched yet. Therefore, to learn about your customer acquisition phase, set up adverts on your social media asking for feedback using either a 1:1 interview or a survey.


  • You can use targeting and lookalike audiences of these services to match the interests and demographics of the kind of customer you would like to speak with.
  • Gives access to customers not in the purchasing phase.
  • Customers actively want to talk to you, so don’t need to convince them.


  • You don’t speak to your actual customers, so they may not know anything about your brand.
  • Financial costs to run adverts.

v. Conferences and networking events

I like to see these types of events as a captured market filled with people looking to chat, and often interested in something a little bit different. If you are going to these anyway as part of work, why not use them as an opportunity in your website discovery process?

The people you speak to may not be your exact demographic, but many of us shop online frequently. As it’s an event you are attending anyway, there is likely to be some overlap with your business. Use this to your advantage and bring your tablet, notebook or recording device with you.

During Swanky’s Unleashed conference I took the opportunity to ask attendees about their tech buying habits. This gave me an interesting finding: many businesses provide laptops and other tech for their employees. This means even though many of us now work from home, most are not looking to purchase tech online. As such, we’ve shifted one of our client’s target audience so they do not rely on the work-from-home market as much.


  • People are willing to be talked to.
  • Can conduct both in-depth interviews and surveys in one place.
  • Can be more passive work if you leave a tablet and sign on your stall.
  • No additional costs as you are already at the event.


  • May not be your target audience. Or they might be a specific subset of your audience. Think about who the people are at the event. For example, if it is a food and drink conference then this audience is likely to know a lot more about ingredients and the industry than your usual customer. Therefore, take their answers with a pinch of salt.
  • You might need to convince users to take part.
  • A more opportunistic style of research.

vi. Use your coffee or lunch break

This could be seen as the hardest option as you need to put yourself out there. But you will be amazed at the people who do stop and chat to you.

Remember to think about the location you are in. If it is somewhere people are rushing around, then they are unlikely to stop. Try and choose somewhere people are just browsing or sitting around killing time. It is always worth a shot as the opportunity is right on your doorstep.


  • Can be done adhoc with very little setup.
  • Shorter surveys are best, but long surveys could also work.
  • No cost.


  • Not necessarily your audience.
  • Your location can dictate who is available.
  • Could require some time to get a good response, depending on footfall.

Navigating the opportunity space

Your regular contact with customers will provide you with some fascinating findings. However, you might then be overloaded with opportunities and left wondering how to apply this to your business.

Remember to stay focused on outcomes, not outputs, so try not to jump to solutions immediately. Instead, map out the opportunities presented by your customers to help find the best path to your desired outcome.

One great way of doing this is with opportunity trees. There is a great article on these by Product Plan. These maps help to demonstrate how smaller opportunities can support bigger ones and ultimately support your intended outcome(s). Similarly if you have an opportunity, but you are not sure how to tackle it, you can break it down into smaller ones, which then go towards tackling the bigger opportunity. This can make the situation or opportunity easier to handle and allow you the chance to iteratively improve your ecommerce site.

From here you can then evaluate your opportunities against each other to determine which takes the highest priority. It’s at this point that the solutions start to come in. You can now choose one opportunity and consider several solutions to resolve it.

This is the benefit to the website discovery process: contemplating different ways you could meet the same goal, and choosing the one that fits best based on feasibility, viability and desirability.

What’s next in the website discovery process?

Now to test and dig into the data. Run some A/B experiments. Or pull together some prototypes to understand which solution is the most effective and to see if it will even work! The truth is, half of our ideas will fail and many of the good ones will need iterating over and over again to make them better.

This is why discovery is so important. If you find out something wasn’t a good idea, that’s great! You’ve now saved yourself lots of time, money and stress.

If you do find a winner, something that enhances the customer journey, meets your outcome(s) and can be solutioned effectively, that’s great too. We can now progress to the build phase with more certainty and accuracy regarding timelines and budget.

The website discovery process is all about reducing risk and uncertainty. Only take forward problems worth solving and solutions customers will love.

Utilise Swanky’s expertise in your next website discovery project

At Swanky we can run discovery on your next big project, capitalising on years of experience pushing the boundaries of Shopify. We know how to get around platform limitations in areas like subscription, quizzes and internationalisation. We take your unknowns and bring clarity.

Or work with us on continuous discovery, creating data dashboards and understanding your customers. Strategising where the biggest opportunity is and testing to improve your key outcomes like conversion rate, lifetime value and customer experience.

We would love to start a conversation with you about unlocking the power of discovery.

Reference: Torres, T. (2021) Continuous Discovery Habits. USA: Product Talk LLC.

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