iMedia Connection, April 10 2009
By John Federman
Retail sites are quickly eclipsing search engines as the start of the purchase process. Find out how you can capture consumer attention in this exciting space.
With a broader spectrum of product options, features, and prices available online compared to physical stores, the sheer time and transportation savings are making the web an increasingly preferred shopping venue. In fact, according to the latest Forrester research, web sales are growing at five times the rate of brick and mortar stores, a trend that the economy will no doubt fuel further.
While search engines — the first generation of paid search — have done an excellent job helping consumers determine where to go for specific purchases, the cost of paid search has risen exponentially year over year, and brand marketers have paid dearly to rise to the top of those lists. What we have learned from the leading search engines is that marketers find paid search to be effective — its pay for performance model and highly measurable ROI are more easily justified than cost performance measurement-based offerings and mass media. But what is becoming more evident is that search engines only take your brand so far. And with retail sites quickly eclipsing search engines as a starting point for the purchase process, it’s critical that marketers are thinking beyond traditional search and evaluating solutions to capture consumer attention in the online storefront.
So, how can you ensure your brand stands out?
1. Be where your best prospects are buying
According to multiple sources, more than 80 percent of all product searches begin online, so advertising online has become a more important part of the marketing mix. Yet, the past five years have demonstrated some shifts that marketers may not have foreseen:
• Search engines have displaced catalogs and manufacturer websites as a point of purchase initiation.
• 64 percent of consumers are using multiple sources for their research including reviews, physical stores, online stores, and search engines.
• 24 percent of consumers begin their search on retail sites, up from 21 percent a few years ago.
• Retail sites have displaced search engines as the No. 1 venue for beginning product research.
With such trends in place, it is more important than ever to market online earlier and more consistently to capture mindshare at the outset of the purchase cycle. Search has been the biggest beneficiary of this shift, and counter to conventional wisdom, search is happening on retail sites — just outpacing search engines, so advertisers need to be evaluating how to make an impact on retail sites, as they’ve done through merchandising in store over the years.
2. Maintain momentum throughout the buying cycle
You’ve spent against online and offline media to build your brand and generate awareness, all with an end goal of selling more product. In today’s economy, it’s all about justifying the investment, which has propelled email marketing and search to the front of the pack with their measurable ROI and pay-only-for-performance model. And all of these vehicles help build the momentum that ideally ends in some sort of local search for where to buy a specific product.
But the process doesn’t stop there. If you’ve helped build momentum to the point where someone gets in the car and heads to the store, you have the option of purchasing interactive displays, end-caps, and eye-level shelf space to engage the prospect at point of purchase. Yet, in a world that’s quickly going online, keeping the conversation going with a prospect is a challenge; engaging the consumer amongst the more-crowded virtual shelves is much harder.
Innovative merchandising solutions are emerging to take the best of paid search and help advertisers bid for premium placement among those virtual shelves within the retail sites where product searches and purchases are happening. These solutions help maintain the momentum you’ve worked so hard to build by ensuring your products are positioned in those premium areas where 70 percent of buyers are more inclined to click, and ultimately purchase.
3. Know your strengths… and your weaknesses
One of the pieces missing in online marketing is the ability to see who might be capturing your share of click. Innovative reporting and analytics can uniquely demonstrate the gains you are making from increasing your cost-per-click bid, or help measure the impact of going from the fourth to the third search slot.
It’s essential to choose a service provider with this depth of reporting in order to help cost justify your investment while illustrating the competitive effects of moving up or down, or choosing not to get in the game.
As an example, if you look at the crowded flat panel TV arena, we saw a vendor take its click share from 14 percent to 18 percent across a network of leading retail and comparison shopping sites — a 29 percent increase. At the same time, we know that the advertiser’s biggest competitor saw a drop of 25 percent in the clicks across the same network because it wasn’t investing in elevating its position online.
Just as marketers spend billions of dollars each year on in-store promotion, end-caps, and eye-level displays at the point of purchase in the brick and mortar world, these practices can be translated to the web — by retooling traditional search results to integrate cost-per-click bids for preferred placement across product listings and search results. It’s virtual shelf space as a means of capturing buyer attention and mindshare.
It’s time to use a solution that allows you to proactively affect your position with a cost-per-click bid, displacing competitors and capturing consumer attention at the point of purchase — all without the skyrocketing price of keywords that cause ads to be seen across the great unwashed.
What are you waiting for?
John Federman is president and CEO of Searchandise Commerce.