26th May 2020 – Matthew Howman – Head of Paid Search
At the time of writing, all non-essential shops remain closed, the high-street has been decimated by the nationwide lockdown and as I continue to work from home, a constant stream of delivery drivers speed past my window like an episode of Wacky Races as they continue to fulfill the relentless demand for online commerce.
Outdoor retail will now be able to re-open with safety guidelines from 1st June and other retail from 15th June, so the next few months will be critical for retailers as they not only assess the appetite for the public to return back to purchasing in-store, but also try to ascertain how much of a permanent impact this lockdown period has had to consumer buying habits.
One positive to note is that the past few months has been a big win for local stores, I’ve never seen so much support for bakeries, local cafes offering takeaways, butchers and village stores. However, there has also been a further surge in demand for the online behemoths; Amazon posted a 26% year-on-year increase in sales for Q1 and with 58% of product searches starting on Amazon, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for online retailers to compete.
Our team regularly reviews auction marketplace data in search results and for many B2C retailers, Amazon (alongside Wayfair and eBay) are consistently increasing their presence every year. For Amazon, their position is strong; half of the online population go straight to them for a product. For the percentage that use a search engine first, Amazon are often the number one result so they pick up a further share of traffic that way, too.
What can online retailers do to build a presence, remain relevant and create a sustainable model for the future?
If we briefly look at Amazon, there are a number of features that make shopping with them a seamless experience: One-click purchase, reliable and accurate search, Prime delivery, Recommended for you and Subscribe and Save. The journey is so simple – most people end up buying products they don’t need purely for the convenience that it will arrive first thing in the morning.
There are a number of features listed which are either too expensive to implement or simply not feasible for the average eCommerce website, however one thing every online retailer can take away and do today is to audit on your own website’s site search.
According to a study, almost 30% of website visits begin with a site search. Using platform tools such as Google Analytics every website owner can analyse what users are searching for on their site, if they can’t find what they’re looking for there’s a big chance they will exit the site and look elsewhere.
Top Tip: Improve your site search experience by using Google Analytics to look at the conversion rate of individual search terms, and also % search refinements to measure how often users are having to change their search to find what they were looking for.
Seamless experience is reducing friction to purchase, so eCommerce retailers should be looking to ensure their design is mobile-first, their website time-to-interaction is as quick as possible and users can checkout without needing to reach for their card, remember logins and passwords or set up an account via a lengthy form.
With mobile traffic now averaging 53.3% share versus desktop and tablet devices, integrating PayPal, Apple Pay and/or Google Pay is an effective way to remove the friction of a purchase. For most smartphones, payments can now be validated through their fingerprint so a user who has already connected their card to a payment app i.e. can make a purchase within seconds.
The next phase is offsite.
The main developments in creating a seamless experience for users to purchase are happening away from website platforms and are being launched on social media and search engines.
Announced all the way back in August 2019, Google announced a pilot for merchants in the US to sell directly within the search results. There are unconfirmed examples from Google which suggest they will take around 5% commission to facilitate the order however this is one to watch if they decide to roll it out worldwide. Effectively, users will no longer need to navigate away from the Google search results in order to make a purchase and Google guarantees excellent customer service and a simple returns process.
Google also announced on April 21st 2020 that merchants will have the ability to list their products for free on Google. In tandem with the potential rollout of in-search purchasing, eCommerce retailers will have the opportunity to generate extra traffic and sales through the shopping platform.
Facebook and Instagram
Facebook announced the introduction of Facebook Shops on 19th May 2020; a simple to setup and manage platform for businesses to sell directly through their social pages.
“People can find Facebook Shops on a businesses’ Facebook page or Instagram profile, or discover them through Stories or ads”. Currently US only, this is another huge step for businesses to create a seamless experience for users to purchase.
The average time spent on social media in 2019, per day, was 144 minutes! That’s over two hours everyday of scrolling, liking, commenting. Businesses will now have the opportunity to grab those moments in the day where someone suddenly gets the urge to buy one of those 5-compartment frying pans for their weekend fry-up, or target them with Sally Rooney’s latest book because they’ve just watched Normal People on BBC3.
The future of marketing and online commerce is creating seamless experiences so users can buy onsite or offsite, find and engage with your brand and discover you at the right moment in time. It’s being easily accessible, fast to load and reducing all of the annoying facets to using the web i.e. pop-ups, flashy ads over content and interstitials (try navigating a news website – horrible experience).
A seamless experience is being able to pay without hassle, the fulfillment and delivery can often be outside of your control but for the end-user it’s receiving the product as soon as possible and then having such a great experience that they are willing to recommend you to someone else.
The next few months will be interesting to monitor, will people return to the old norm or is this the biggest acceleration we have seen in the shift to eCommerce? Investors are betting on Shopify ($SHOP) and Magento ($ADBE) to lead the way and it could be the perfect time for existing eCommerce sites to look at their marketplace, assess where the opportunities are and invest now to build for the future.
Either way, whether the rapid acceleration continues now or plateaus for a few years, the next generation of online shoppers have grown up building blocks on Minecraft and whiling away their hours watching YouTubers. There will be no tolerance in a few years time for any sort of resistance online so it’s all about becoming the go-to place within your marketplace for a seamless and unbeatable experience.