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Retailers Need to Rethink Their Customers' Search (It's Not Just on Google)

By Published on .

Retailers should know that search extends beyond Google, writes Udayan Bose.
Retailers should know that search extends beyond Google, writes Udayan Bose.  Credit: Facebook

Retail is undergoing a major change. This change has been on the horizon for years, but 2017 seems to be a tipping point for the industry. Retail stores are closing in record numbers. Week after week, major news outlets report on the trend, highlighting empty storefronts in vibrant neighborhoods like SoHo in New York City, and smaller crowds at shopping malls across the country.

Last year, online retail totaled 10% of retail sales; in the next 24 months, it will surpass 15% of total retail sales -- a massive increase.

Perhaps the best indicator that retail is suffering is Amazon's incredible success. Amazon now accounts for more than 40% of all U.S. ecommerce sales. When you consider that Amazon is just one of the many options consumers have for online shopping, you start to wonder how any retailer can catch up.

But perhaps retailers shouldn't focus on catching up. Maybe, instead, they should focus on those things that Amazon simply can't offer, due to its sheer size and plethora of inventory.

Progressive retailers

A distinct brand identity is vital for any retailer looking to attract customers to its physical stores and websites. Increasingly, shoppers are unwilling to buy from stores that don't stand for something. Notice that stores with a distinct brand identity and a powerful social purpose, stores that have invested in building a loyal customer base by consistently offering differentiated products, are still thriving. They're offering something that Amazon can't.

We see three key initiatives that are being undertaken by progressive retailers to thrive in this connected world:

1. A conscious effort to better understand their customers, gaining insights into cross-channel customer journeys.

2. An active effort to build a brand identity that's authentic and stands for something meaningful.

3. The adoption of a mobile-first philosophy that focuses on how customers see the brand through the lens of a mobile phone. Forrester reports that mobile influenced more than $1 trillion of all retail sales last year, or more than 30% of total retail sales! This number will only grow.

Rethinking customer search

Search remains a resource for consumers for both online and in-store purchases. However, search is no longer just intent-driven. Thanks to social media, search is now serendipitous as well.

We saw this phenomenon clearly in our data of ecommerce activity around Mother's Day this year. This Mother's Day, we found that last-click attributions increased by almost 18% for Facebook/Instagram from a year ago, with most of the ecommerce activity happening in the week leading up to Mother's Day. This suggests that consumers who were browsing on social media and were reminded about Mother's Day -- either from ads or posts from friends -- almost immediately bought their mother a present they found through Facebook search or on their feeds.

The issue with this new consumer behavior is that most retailers are not yet able to take advantage of it because of departmental silos that exist around specific channels. For instance, a retailer's social marketing team may be working separately from its search marketing team.

We can see how this impacts a major shopping holiday like Mother's Day. A consumer was likely thinking about a present for his mother for Mother's Day before he made that last-minute purchase on Facebook. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, he likely searched for some ideas on Google, but didn't make any purchases. But a week before Mother's Day, he was caught in the "uh-oh" moment on Facebook -- and was driven to make a purchase before it was too late. In that moment, he likely abandoned all his previous ideas. By rebuilding functions around the customer journey, retailers will be better able to seize on these "uh-oh" moments.

Put another way, retailers should think of the search bar as extending across all platforms, not as something that lives on Google. Search also lives on Safari, Facebook, Amazon, Pinterest, etc.

Retailers need to rethink customer search by understanding who their individual customers are, and how to attract them, no matter where they become serendipitously inspired to buy.

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