Can SEO Coexist with Commerce? Studying the Bond between Search and Online Retail, Part II

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Last month, I wrote about how Online Retail and Search are two industries that work in unison with the main objective to fulfill the consumer’s need; find information on product, compare product, buy product. Search fulfills the need of the consumer at the point in which they are seeking information, and uses of both Organic Search Engine Optimization and Paid Search are essential for the online retail marketer.

But what about bridging the gap between online and offline? Research shows that there is a distinct connection between online research and offline buying; however the methods and metrics for attributing online Search to an offline action can be somewhat cloudy. Retailers do understand that many of their customers use multiple channels throughout the sales process, yet marketers are trying to provide a sound measurement for crediting an offline sale or contact through online communication via Search.

Last month we focused on new customer acquisition, and how Search is used to fulfill the role of brining in site traffic with the end goal of converting a visitor to a buyer. This article will focus on cross-channel strategies that work together to form a tighter relationship between online and offline marketing.

Shop Online, Buy Offline, Vice Versa
With many online stores having an offline presence, shoppers have the ability to conduct extensive online research, but make the purchase cross-channel in the actual store. Forrester Research estimates that 55% of US online consumers have cross-channel shopped, which equates to at least 40 million consumers. These shoppers are a gold mine for retailers — they are young, affluent, and have a higher spend amount than those who have not cross-channel shopped. As these shoppers crossed over from online, they spent more than $125 billion in stores in 2005, a 23% increase since 2004 (Forrester Research, 2006).

Though this population of consumers is wealthier and more educated, they are by nature a price-conscious bunch, using the Internet as means to find the best deal. Cross-channel shoppers have little retailer loyalty — they are not reluctant to switch stores, just as they are not reluctant to switch channels; however, these consumers are just as likely to buy offline as they are to make a purchase online. In fact, Forrester found that 65% of cross-channel shoppers have made a purchase online in the past 3 months.

Also of interest is this segment’s willingness to do the exact opposite — research offline and purchase online. Forrester found that 54% of consumers who have researched a product online and bought offline have also researched in-store but made the purchase online. The fact that these two channels are working together to fulfill the customer’s need is important — for it creates an opportunity for retailers to invest in multi-channel marketing strategies.

So what’s the tie that binds? Keywords, searching patterns and behaviors, and ad copy. All of these factors combined can influence the outcome of your Search campaign. Ensuring that a retailer’s Web site and products are in front of these consumers is a challenge that can be met with Search. Whether the purchase is made offline or directly online, the first step in the purchase funnel is consumer awareness. Without a strong presence in the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN, retailers and manufacturers may risk losing these shoppers during the critical research phase which could lead to a lack of consideration during the purchasing phase.

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