Management Information Systems Quarterly


The conversion funnel is a model describing the stages consumers go through in their journey toward a purchase. This journey often lasts several days to weeks and can include multiple visits to a seller’s website. A large body of literature has focused on using observable search patterns to identify consumers’ hidden purchasing stages and to estimate their likelihood of conversion. We propose a novel set of measures to better reveal the consumer’s hidden stage in the funnel. These measures are based on the diversity of the searches that a customer engages in while browsing an e-commerce website, and they include not only the number of different products that are searched for, but also measures that rely on unobserved similarities among products, captured in a product network (in which products are assumed to be “similar” if they are frequently co-searched). We operationalize and evaluate our proposed measures using a large-scale dataset from a medium-sized tourism website used for comparing and booking flights. We estimate a hidden Markov model to show that our proposed diversity measures are associated with progress in the funnel and consumers’ conversion likelihood. Specifically, we show that consumers go through different distinguishable stages (states) in their journey, characterized by different values of our proposed diversity measures. To demonstrate the managerial and business implications of our theory, we show that incorporating search-diversity measures into a baseline prediction model significantly improves the model’s performance in predicting purchase likelihood and churn.