Search data represents the largest, unbiased free source of consumer data in the world.

Retailers have been hit hard by the popularity of e-commerce giants such as Amazon. It’s harder than ever to drive customers to brick-and-mortar locations. A wide variety of retailers are facing continuing sales declines. The women’s apparel retailer The Limited recently announced that it will close all 250 of its stores, while Macy’s plans to shed approximately 15% of its brick-and-mortar footprint. According to RetailNext’s Retail Performance Pulse report, in-store retail sales, traffic, and transactions declined year-over-year for every month from May through September 2016.

Ouch! What’s a retail brand to do?

Well, imagine that you oversee the nail polish business for a major beauty brand. Like many retailers, your brick-and-mortar locations have been hit hard these past few years. It’s harder than ever to drive foot traffic. When your consumers do shop in-store, it’s imperative that you make their visits as profitable as possible. On top of these challenges, like all fashion and beauty brands, you must keep pace with ever-changing trends and styles. Fortunately, you have a few killer insights that will allow you to deliver a highly relevant shopper experience, create an edge over your competition, and most importantly, drives sales.

First, you know that white nail polish is increasingly popular across the country, but that it’s most popular along the East Coast in cities like New York, Miami, and Boston. You use this information to create in-store displays that promote your white polishes in key locations on the East Coast. You also know that some of your competitors in high-interest areas are not well-stocked in white polish. Knowing this, you increase your inventory in those areas to capture shoppers whom your competitor has left disappointed and empty-handed.

And, you don’t stop there. While you’re capitalizing on the white nail polish trend, you’re also planning seasonal promotions and displays for more traditional colors based on yearly trends. You know that black polish is most popular in October, while red dominates December and green peaks in March. You leverage all of these trends to create highly relevant customer experiences, capitalizing on foot traffic and surpassing sales projections.

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How did you accomplish all of this? The answer is simple: search data.

Why Search Data is an Important Source of Insights for Retailers

Retailers have been thrown for a loop by massive market disruption caused by internet juggernauts. Google and Facebook have fundamentally changed the way brands connect with consumers, while Amazon has revolutionized the way consumers purchase products.

To remain competitive, retailers need to continuously innovate the ways in which they research consumer intent. Some of today’s most interesting and impactful insights are publicly available through free user interfaces and APIs, the most underutilized of which lives in search data.

Search data represents the largest, unbiased free source of consumer data in the world. Everyday there are 3.5 billion searches on Google and over 8 billion searches across all engines. Think about it this way: that’s 8 billion things consumers want or need everyday. They are telling you exactly what they want.

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Used strategically, search data is your brand’s secret weapon to overhaul your in-store marketing. Whether you’re selling nail polish, jeans, athletic equipment, cars, or anything in between, you can tap into this data to better understand how to manage brands, products, and even brick-and-mortar stores.

Where to Begin: Geo-Locational Search Data

One of the best places to look is actually a commonly used tool, Google AdWords Keyword Planner. But the tool’s true potential for in-store impact is commonly overlooked by marketers. The Planner becomes truly insightful only with a well devised keyword list, and when leveraged at the geo-locational level.

You’ll need to create a keyword list that best represents your products. It’s crucial that you include all combinations of words regarding your products, including features, colors, styles etc. This will be the starting point for all of your consumer research. And, if you want to make your data analysis as robust, efficient, and insights-filled as possible, use a visualization program like Tableau.

Start the process with a Google AdWords Keyword Planner account. You don’t actually need to be spending any money in AdWords to access the data, you just need the account itself. If you want to get the best insights in a reasonable amount of time, you’ll want to connect directly to the AdWords API. However, all of the data can also be pulled manually.

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The Keyword Planner tool can uncover a great deal of new insights for your in-store marketing when looking at geo-locational keyword trends. For example, below is a screenshot from the tool showing search volume for colors of a beauty product line by county or city.

In some cases, consumer preferences remain consistent throughout the year across the US. However, in many cases, trends are seasonal. For example, white nail polish has peak interest in July, while black peaks in October, on aggregate across the entire US. Below is a screenshot from the nail polish example demonstrating Search demand per color over time.

It’s also equally as important to understand demand geographically, so that you are marrying your seasonal data with location data for the most relevant in-store experiences across the country.

Another way to look at the data is by the percentage of total search volume by location, which is best viewed by a 100% horizontal bar chart. This helps better determine specific demand within a given market/city. The colors on the chart represent the colors of products being searched.

How Can Retailers Leverage These Insights?

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In-Store Displays & Promotions

Just by looking at search data in a new way, you can start to isolate trends and variables to extract meaningful behavioral insights for in-store application. See the below charts from the Keyword Planner for white nail polishes’ geographic search interest over time.

Based off of this data, we can conclude that interest in white nail polish has clearly increased in specific areas of the country over the past year.

Retailers can use these insights to identify specific in-store display colors for a given market. In other words, if there is higher Search interest in white nail polish in Los Angeles, ensure the in-store displays in that area cater to that color. Similarly, create a separate display for Seattle where another color may be favored over white.

This same rationale and approach can be applied beyond product color. It can also help you decide what type of product to promote in-store. For example, if you sell both nail polish and mascara, you can compare product search interest across various geographies to determine which product is most relevant in a certain location and should therefore be featured in promotions, deals, etc. Similarly, to help determine which product to promote in-store, you can examine Search volume for specific consumer problems in various regions. For example, a hair care brand could examine Search interest for various hair concerns, like frizzy hair, flat hair, etc. Using this information, you could create in-store displays to promote products that solve each location’s top hair concern respectively.

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Supply Chain Logistics

Not only can search data indicate the products, colors, and brands to promote, but it can also guide supply chain logistics. Going back to the white nail polish example, if search interest in white nail polish has tripled in Miami, there is likely increased consumer demand in that location, indicating that you should increase your inventory in Miami-area locations.

Supplementally, looking at the proximity of brick-and-mortar competitors in a similar geographic area, understanding their inventory, general business practices, and foot traffic patterns can offer opportunities on restocking / supply chain management.

For example, if a competitor has little to no stock on a particular brand, product type, or product quality (color, bristle firmness, scent, etc.), you should overstock / increase supply as the foot traffic that has traditionally been loyal to your competitor has a higher percentage of migrating towards your establishment in search of the product they desire.

Additionally, when new stores open, or established stores plan to close, similar pivots in supply chain strategy can be applied with additional insights from geo-digital campaigns. For example, if there is a high query volume on mobile near the location of all the stores in the equation, and those products have a fairly high in-store sale rate, it’s very likely to see an influx of in-store sales for the products queried on mobile.

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Summary

Whether you manage a beauty brand, or any brand sold through retail, you face a brutal in-store challenge to attract shoppers and guide them to purchase. By using search data strategically, you can gain key insights that will help you to better match the interests of your target consumers. Search data helps your brand to market in-store more effectively by color, location, and product. Use search as your secret weapon, and turn all the doom-and-gloom brick-and-mortar trends on their head with your own in-store success story.

Catalyst is a digital marketing agency serving the Fortune 1000.

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