We get it. You don’t have time to survey every customer who walks through the door or visits your online shop. Business management is hard enough for business owners without having to sift through a pile of feedback cards, tweets, and comments. On slower days, you might add customer suggestions to a never-ending to-do list, with their feedback falling further down the list in favor of the latest fire you have to put out, vendor agreements that require negotiating, and employees that need mentoring. Finding out what customers want can be challenging.

Here’s a hard truth: people don’t change until they have to. Regardless of noble intentions, change is hard and time-consuming, and given the option to coast comfortably, most people do so until they have to deal with a business meltdown. By then, it’s too late. Coasting is what separates a good small business from a great one.

What Customers Want is the Priority

If you’re not laser-focused on what customers want– their pain points, wants, and needs — you’re leaving money on the table. With the ever-growing online world of social media, businesses are finding that they’re relinquishing more and more control of their brand to their customers.

Gone are the days when all you needed was an ad in the Pennysaver, flyers, and a radio shout-out to attract and grow your customer base. Now, customers have the power of choice, and you’ve probably already faced the grim reality that they’re not as loyal as they used to be. Now, customers are going for the value option, or the business that makes an effort to cultivate a real relationship, or the business that knows exactly what they need at any given moment, making it more important than ever to know what customers want.

Finding Out What a Customer Needs and Wants

Running a small business requires you to keep current — not only in the way you operate your business but also understanding how your customers think and behave. While you may not have the time to stand in front of your shop with a clipboard questionnaire, you can access a goldmine of information from Amazon and YouTube. Both channels will give insight into how your customers think, purchase, and behave, as well as what consumers want and expect from products that they purchase.

The best part is that your detective work comes free of charge. Also, this valuable intel can keep you competitive, current, and help you skyrocket your business.

Why Amazon and YouTube? YouTube users compose nearly one-third of all internet users, watching a billion hours of video per day. While Google is the go-to text and image search engine, YouTube is considered its video counterpart. In short, your customers are probably on YouTube interacting and commenting on videos, leaving valuable insights on what customers want and expect.

Amazon is another great resource for gaining consumer insights. According to Statista, Amazon was the #1 online store in the United States in 2017, with sales of $178 billion and a customer base of 310 million worldwide. Your customer likely buys products similar to yours on Amazon, and many customers love to share their thoughts and opinions in the reviews section.

Information from these two global giants offers valuable insights into what consumers want.

Now that you know about the powerful information at your fingertips, let’s get sleuthing.

What Do Customers Want? Watch YouTube

Let’s say you own an upscale coffee shop. You sell organic and fair-trade brews, as well as delectable pastries. You want to keep pace with trends and your customers’ tastes and preferences. YouTube can help you learn about what customers want from other businesses in the same industry as yours.

Watch videos created by competitors or similar companies to spark content ideas and you can watch reviews from fans and influencers who highlight aspects of the business that are important to them. Dig into the comments to see what customers are saying — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

A coffee company, for example, might check out Blue Bottle Coffee by typing in “Blue Bottle Coffee” (use quotation marks so you get that exact search term instead of sifting through results of coffee, blue bottles, etc.). This search yields nearly 10,000 results

Right off the bat, you can get content ideas for your own social media channels — how-to brew, the latest in brewing tools, and pour over coffee tutorials. You may see some videos that reference Blue Bottle’s having been acquired by Nestle, a giant corporation. In this video, you can view comments that offer an incredible amount of information to the small business owner who finds themselves asking “what do customers want?” You’ll get context about the market and demand for specialty coffee, as well as how small business owners can carve out space for themselves among the giants.

In this instance, YouTube reveals that customer concerns include quality of the coffee, change in price, and a potential shift in company culture.

Businesses can use this to their advantage! Coffee businesses could talk about the benefits of being a neighborhood coffee shop. Or they could talk about their sourcing, store culture, and the consistency and quality of their coffee. Personal connection and quality still matter to customers, and businesses can make that a key point in their store signage and local marketing efforts.

Your business will benefit from these same kinds of insights as well. Scan through other videos and comments. Take screenshots, save videos, and jot down ideas for new content and products that your customer is craving.

Use Amazon to Discern What Customers Want

Now let’s dig a little deeper into how Amazon can help businesses learn what customers want.

Businesses that sell products can learn a lot about what customers want from Amazon. Let’s say you own a bicycle shop and you sell bikes, as well as accessories. You sell in a brick-and-mortar location and you recently expanded your business to include an online shop. Your biggest accessory revenue drivers are bicycle bags and you want to make sure that you can anticipate any potential customer questions or issues by addressing them in the product descriptions. By browsing customer reviews and product descriptions, business owners can anticipate potential questions or issues, which can build trust with customers and lead to reduced return rates and restocking losses.

Product Pages Help Proactively Identify What Customers Want in Product Descriptions

Amazon product pages can provide a wealth of information. For example, you may sell the Aduro Sports Storage Bag or a similar product. The bag’s Amazon product page gives a wealth of information, including how the bag is photographed and described. Zero in on the questions, because these might be questions your customer would ask. For example, Will it fit an iPhone 7 Plus? You can add this to your product description by saying that the bag is compact enough not to hinder your ride and yet it fits the essentials such as your smartphone, keys, and wallet.

Amazon Reviews Help Determine What Consumers Want and Product Improvements

Lower-rated reviews, like three-star reviews, may provide a lot of proactive product information and identify ways the product can be improved. High ratings (five-star reviews) can be suspect, as they can be biased, bought, or unhelpful. Similar to our YouTube example, you’re looking for gaps — issues with the product or overall shopping experience.

Businesses should compare the reviews and interactions between customers in the comments under each review. Consider being a fly on the wall, hearing how your customer is talking about your products. You might even want to look at similar products at a higher price point to help determine preferred brands and price points. Keeping pace with what customers want and how much they prefer to spend is critical in refining your business and pricing strategies.

Getting too comfortable in your small business could be the death of it. Every day brings new changes in technology and shifts in consumer trends. However, at the core is your customer — their needs, wants, preferences, and struggles. If you get clarity on how your customers think, you can refine your business to proactively address their needs head-on with your solutions.