There is a lot more than click-through rate to understanding the impact of search. How often a retailer appears on a search results page, the content presented and other factors can have a big impact on where a shopper buys.

It’s no secret that search is an influential touchpoint in a consumer’s purchase decision for almost any product. Search represents as much as 40% of traffic referrals to online retailers, depending on the time of year and the product being searched. 

Yet despite the common understanding of search’s importance in the retail industry, there is a still a lot unknown about how consumers interact with a search results page beyond click-through rates.

The evolution of the search results page means that shoppers are presented with an increasingly diverse number of ways to shop before ever arriving at an online retailer, as the graphic below illustrates.

For retailers, this means increased competition in fighting for the same shopper, and less visibility into the content that is most influential in the shopper’s path to purchase.

For brands, the challenge is understanding how shoppers use search to find products so that they can create an easy, consistent experience across retailers. 


Competition from online-only retailers heats up

U.S. consumers spend $20 billion annually on footwear, according to the NPD group. The footwear industry is a fragmented market that is only getting more splintered by the acceleration of e-commerce sales thanks to online-only retailers like Traditional brick and mortar retailers are fighting for shopper attention in search, competing for space with online-only retailers like Shoebuy and 6pm. 

To dive deeper into this challenge, Millward Brown Digital conducted an analysis of the search results listings that U.S. shoppers were exposed to while conducting footwear-related searches in August 2014. Six of the top 10 retailers most likely to appear on the search results page were online-only retailers.

This means that consumers are more likely to be exposed to online shoe retailers through search than well-known department store retailers like Nordstrom or Macy’s, underscoring how challenging e-commerce is becoming for traditional retailers as competition heats up. Several of the industry’s largest footwear players – Payless Shoes and DSW – are nowhere to be found in the top 10 most frequently appearing retailers.


Finally, search behavior suggests that there is a positive relationship between the degree to which a footwear retailer appears in search results and the likelihood that a footwear searcher will click on a search result. As e-commerce increases and the influence of search grows, retailers and brands need to have better visibility into the search results page from the perspective of the shopper.

Looking Ahead: Three Things Every Retailer Needs to Understand about Search

1. Better understand the downstream impact of search exposure.Currently much is known about the first action shoppers take after leaving a search results page. More visibility is needed into the consumer journey following that first click to better tie search investments to downstream impact – whether that be increasing conversions, driving in-store purchase, or even decreasing cross-shopping to competitor retailer.

2. Understand the impact of paid search on retailer choice. Every retailer knows the impact that an increase in paid search has on their own site traffic. As search grows in influence, retailers need to understand the competitive and industry-wide impact on retailer choice. For instance, do consumers visit fewer retailers or eliminate particular retailers from their consideration set because they were exposed to a paid search campaign?


3.  Understand what search listing content is most likely to drive engagement. Multiple search listings for the same retailer often show up on the same page. If you are a retailer with one listing while your competitor has three listings, which listing is driving the most engagement for shoppers?  Identifying whether price, style, or search copy in a listing drive engagement can provide some important context into what factor is most likely to drive an online purchase.Differences in search listing content by retailer can also help competitors better understand the reasons they might be attracting a different type of shopper.

Brands selling online through their retailer partners should also spend time understanding the answers to these questions. The answers will help brands and retailers alike continue to shape what category management looks like in an e-commerce environment.

Millward Brown Digital is a digital marketing agency that is part of Kantar, a unit of WPP.