Shopping has undergone a revolution, and it is still changing. It started with an Internet bookstore and an online swap meet introducing new ways to shop. Fast forward two decades, and online shopping continues to grow.
In fact, in its report, “US Online Retail Forecast, 2012 To 2017,” Forrester predicts that e-commerce will reach $371 billion by 2017, when it will account for 10% of all retail sales.
The explosion of digital devices and media, open information, real-time word of mouth, and same-day delivery illustrate the landscape is still being created.
Today’s shopper is different. The old paradigm days of browsing aisles, reading box sides, and asking questions of store associates have already been replaced by shoppers beginning their research in the digital medium — not just for heavily researched and considered categories like durable goods, but also for lower-priced, fast-moving consumer goods.
Why? We’re afraid of making the wrong choice: Will I like it? Will my friends like it? Will it actually do what it says? Is it safe? Is it healthy? Is it green?
When I went to a baby store recently with the assignment of buying a car seat, I couldn’t get comfortable with the idea of just picking something off the shelf and buying. I had to sit in my car first and research brands and models on my phone. Once in the store, I still couldn’t pull the trigger on the one I liked without first checking reviews online.
We’re quickly growing accustomed to mitigating purchase risk by tapping into the vast pools of information assembled online.
The Multi-Device, Multi-Tab Shopper
Under the old paradigm, people would signal their entry into the market by visiting their favorite store at a convenient time and browsing the right aisle to learn about options. For some purchases, it was worth the hassle of walking or driving to another store to compare more options; but in practice, most shoppers would buy from the first store they visited. Product brands and retailers made huge investments to create the right experiences in and around each retail chain to win that shopper.
In the new and still-changing paradigm, entry into the market for a new product purchase is much less linear — and much less centered on a visit to a single retailer.
The stimulus to buy something may happen at any time. Most of us have a digital device at hand during most of the day: at work, it may be a PC; on the go, it may be a smartphone; at home on the couch, it may be a tablet. We always have the ability to run a Google search or visit a retailer website to start learning about options. On the initial search, we may bookmark, pin, or email a couple options to investigate later.
Then it gets interesting. Many of us start digging deeper on a different device. Through my observation of actual conversion rates and purchase paths, that usually means moving from a smartphone or work computer to a home computer or tablet to lay out options for comparison and purchase.
Rarely are those options limited to a single retailer. Depending on the purchase size, a user may open several or even dozens of browser tabs, each with different retailers selling different brands and product lines. In this decision-making process, the brand and product choices are the focus, not the retail channels where they are presented.
Today’s multi-device, multi-tab shopper buys at a retailer, but they no longer shop at a retailer. They shop on devices and web browsers and build their own virtual store from many retailers.
Reaching Today’s Shopper
The challenge of reaching an in-market shopper was more clear-cut when shopping mostly occurred in one retailer. In the old offline paradigm, brands focused most of their marketing investment in co-op, direct with each retailer, one at a time.
At some brands, an extension was made to “shopper marketing” to reach the shopper in a more holistic way, but the opportunities for execution have been limited primarily to large consumer-packaged-goods companies with big marketing departments.
Add in the complex path-to-purchase of today’s shopper and the challenge looks especially daunting.
Brands clearly have a common goal of taking control of their placement and presence across all online channels, so shoppers can consider their products at the right place and right time, to maximize conversion to sales.
At my company, HookLogic, we are all about enabling brands to interact with in-market shoppers across many retail channels at once, at the point-of-purchase decision. We built a ubiquitous cross-retailer network on the principles of search engine marketing, married with native ad formats within the retailers’ search results.
The closest alternatives would be Google’s Product Listing Ads or Amazon’s Product Ads and Sponsored Products, all of which look and function like the content shoppers have become accustomed to engaging with.
Bing, the newest player in the space, has caught on to this native commerce trend and provides an alternative for engaging shoppers that are not on Google, Amazon or retail sites.
When selecting which of these alternatives to use, it’s important for brands to really think about who their competition is. For example, retailers tend to dominate the pages of Google Shopping. Unless a brand has an aggressive direct sales strategy, it’s often counterproductive for a brand to go head-to-head against the retailers that sell its products. Amazon and HookLogic programs both focus more on competition between manufacturers.
Managing our Retail Search Exchange has given us unique visibility into today’s shopper marketing paradigm. My goal over the next several columns will be to summarize our learning and assist product brands currently navigating the challenges of reaching today’s shopper.
My next column will focus on the challenges and opportunities brands face when measuring the impact of online marketing.
Stock photo used by permission from Shutterstock.com
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.