Applying the OODA loop to ecommerce

About The Author

Ahmad Iqbal

Ahmad Iqbal

Co-founder and Product/Marketing at Shop Phone. Growth consultant. Every now and again I write about the small business advantage.

Introduction: Lessons from Air to Air Combat

The OODA Loop was developed by John Boyd, a military strategist, in the 1960’s as a decision making framework for fighter pilots in the chaos of air to air combat. Boyd has been credited for introducing Sun Tzu's Art of War and many eastern philosophies on organization and strategy to the United States military. And although he was never promoted above colonel (likely due to his constant conflict with authority and status-quo, which in the military os part in parcel), he was a perennial out-side-the-box intellectual whose legacy is still felt.

His objective with the OODA Loop was to develop a decision making framework for soldiers to use in combat, but the framework extends far beyond military and is applicable in business as well.


What is the OODA Loop?

The OODA Loop is a decision making framework broken down into four steps:

1. Observation

2. Orientation

3. Decision

4. Action

For our application in ecommerce, Observation is your customer’s interaction with your website. They’re checking your About page, pictures, FAQs, and getting a general sense of your business.


This will feed into Orientation. Orientation is where your customer evaluates whether they need your product badly enough, or trust your business enough, to make the purchasing effort.


From here, the customer will make one of three Decisions. Either they decide not to buy, maybe buy, or buy now.

Once a decision is made, the obvious next step is to Action. If they decide to buy now, the action will be clicking on “Checkout” to initiate shipping and payment.


Why is this relevant?

The four steps sound simple enough, but the insight lies in the fact that this is a loop. Clicking to initiate checkout isn’t the final action. Once a visitor does this, they’ll see a set of contact and shipping inputs; and they’ll have to decide again if they want to continue. If they action positively again, they’ll see another set of inputs for credit card details, to which they’ll have to make another mini-decision on whether or not they really do want/need this product right now.

So “buying” isn’t just one decision and action. The process of making a purchase is at least 3-4 mini-decisions and mini-actions. This is why Abandoned Checkouts happen; when "Maybe buy" turn into "Maybe not right now".

To recover abandoned checkouts, you probably use emails alerts, but what would work really well would be a 1-on-1 conversation, which the Scout app, for example, can enable. If you could have a Call, SMS or Whatsapp dialogue with your customer, you’re customizing the conversation through dialogue, instead of assuming the conversation your customer is expecting and pushing a static monologue through an auto-email. There isn't just one reason for abandons, but auto-emails when you offer free shipping, or a discount, assumes the abandoned reason was price related. When really there is a long-tail of reasons, reasons merchants will never know unless they talk to customers.

And there is more to this. Remember the first decision your visitor had to make? To either Not Buy, Maybe Buy, or Buy Now? Well, an abandoned checkout strategy only aims to convert the visitors who initially decided to buy now and clicked the "add to cart" button. But what about those who were “maybes”? There are many people visiting your website and abandoning mentally, without even moving the cursor over the button. These are the most frustrating abandons because they are people who are interested but left no information or "bread crumbs" for you about their intent. If you don’t lay out a clear ACTION for the “maybes” to take, they will automatically default to the same action that the “Not Buys” took; which is to leave your site and, eventually, forget.

The lesson to apply

To save those visitors, give the “maybes” a specific Action. For example, an Action like “Request a Call Back”. Our Call Back App is a good example. It offers your “on the fence” customers an option to request a call or message back. This offers “maybe” customers a productive Action. It's a much lighter weight interaction than adding to cart, and it's more relevant and product for that type of user. The phone call is a great 1-on-1 channel you can use to close a sale, and their undivided attention is a great first step in creating a bulletproof customer relationship.

The lesson really is to understand that making a purchasing decision doesn't just end at a Yes or No answer to the question of a purchase. There are the Observation, Orientation, and Action items as well. The first visit your customer has on your site is their Observation step. This is them taking the time to quickly size your brand up for things like trust, knowledge, ease of use, and/or overall vibe. It's why it's so important to have clear, high quality images. It's also why it's important not to have so many pop-ups and plug-ins interrupting your visitor's first visit. They're still trying to observe and orient themselves to your offering, hitting them with email sign ups, play-to-win wheels, and discount codes isn't helpful to them (or you) because they are not in the Decision making step of their purchasing journey yet.

So to recap: When you understand how your best (and worst) visitors navigate through the OODA Loop on your website, you'll gain unparalleled insight into the buying process and the buying experience on your website. This is the first step in optimizing your conversion rate. Not only will be increase your conversion rates, but it will save you a lot of time and money in figuring out the CRO experiments that will work for your brand.

Guide cover

Get The Guide

Funnel Mapping for Ecommerce

Service is the best form of marketing. Subscribe to get the most relevant content.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.