While everyone knows the power of Internet search in driving traffic to retail web sites, search can still offer surprises in areas such as its impact on purchasing behavior, experts said at the Internet Retailer 2006 Conference & Exhibition.
“The Internet is fueling the rhythm of everyday lives,” John Miniati, vice president of comScore Networks Inc., told conference attendees on June 6 in Chicago during the session “Who’s Online and How Do You Reach Them?” Indeed, he noted, the web has far surpassed other forms of media, including magazines, newspapers, radio and TV, as consumers’ preferred reference point for information. Internet search, meanwhile, was used by 84% of web users in April, Miniati said.
But retailers shouldn’t expect search to always produce immediate results in sales, he said. “People don’t always convert in the same web session when searching,” he said, adding that merchants need to understand the latent impact of web search on multi-channel retailing.
In a study of consumer search behavior last year, comScore found that only 17% of search-initiated sales occurred during the same web session. Among the most common retail product categories falling within this 17% were movie tickets and flowers, Miniati said.
Among the other 83%, 20% of search-initiated sales occurred in later online sessions and 63% occurred in latent offline purchases.
Heather Dougherty, senior e-retail analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings Inc., noted during the same IR2006 session that it’s important to look at both the amount of traffic as well as sales derived from search as compared to non-search activity. In a study of the retail apparel market, Nielsen found, for example, that 86% of consumers arrived at a retail apparel site directly, by either entering its URL in a web browser or clicking a bookmarked address; 8% arrived through a non-search-related referral such as an affiliate site; and 6% arrived through web search.
While consumers arriving directly at a site also accounted for the lion’s share of sales, at 91%, search accounted for a higher share of sales than did other non-search referrals, at 9% to 3%.
The average spend for purchases, however, was less diverse across the three means of arriving at a retail apparel site, Nielsen found. The average spend for direct-visit purchases was $88, compared to $74 for non-search referrals and $72 for search-initiated visits. Search visitors tend to be more price-conscious, Dougherty said.
Nonetheless, search is still considered a crucial part of the mix in reaching customers, Dougherty said. “I’m not being dismissive of search,” she said.
In a review of search engine traffic for specialty apparel retailers, Nielsen produced the following market share figures on number of visits and volume of spending through search-initiated visits:
Google, 38%, 45%
Yahoo, 24%, 24%
MSN, 17%, 19%
AOL, 7%, 9%
Shopzilla, 6%, N/A
Other, 8%, 3%