Advertisers overwhelmingly favor Amazon and Google despite consumer preference for a wide range of retail sites. Given that, 85% of consumer browsing and visits occur on sites other than Amazon.com, advertisers need to address consumer needs at all the retailer and search engine sites shoppers use.

Meghan Lavin, director of marketing, Catalyst

Meghan Lavin, director of marketing, Catalyst

It’s the era of e-commerce. Retailers like Amazon, Target, and Walmart are now not only major online shopping destinations. They are also powerful advertising platforms.

There are more opportunities than ever for advertisers to connect with consumers during their online shopping journeys. But, are advertisers using these e-commerce opportunities to effectively reach their audiences and maximize business results? The short answer: No.

Only 25% of US brands have a strategy for e-commerce retailers beyond Amazon.

Research by Catalyst and ClickZ, summarized in a white paper entitled “The Era of E-commerce, Maximizing the B2C Marketing Opportunity”, reveals a major disconnect between how consumers are searching and shopping across various e-commerce sites and how advertisers are approaching and investing in e-commerce advertising opportunities.

Consumers are non-exclusive in their online purchase journey.

When you think of e-commerce, one name comes to mind: Amazon. How could it not? Amazon is a game-changer that has single-handedly and permanently altered retail as we know it.

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Despite this dominance, it’s important for advertisers to remember that Amazon is not the only e-commerce site visited by consumers. Other e-commerce sites and search engines play pivotal roles in online shopping journeys. For example, 96% of consumers we surveyed had visited Amazon within the last year, but 78% also said they had visited Walmart to research or purchase and another 24% reported a visit to Target to compare prices. Overall, we found that 85% of browsing and purchasing activity occurs at non-Amazon retailers.

And, don’t forget search engines. Much has been reported over the past few years about Amazon usurping Google as the starting point for product discovery. However, in our research we found that traditional search engines like Google and Bing are still critical stops in the purchase journey—both when consumers know what they want and when they’re still in the discovery phase. We found that when a consumer knows what they are looking for, 50% of e-commerce journeys start with a retailer and 50% start with a search engine. When a consumer does not know what they are looking for, a whopping 62% of e-commerce purchase journeys start with a search engine and just 38% begin with a retailer like Amazon.

Advertising budgets and content are misaligned with consumer behaviors.

If a consumer moves from Google to Amazon to Best Buy and then to Walmart to research the same product, it is because they want to find something different at each juncture. Perhaps it is down to price comparison, or to review shipping options, or to read customer reviews. However, our research indicates that advertisers are not heeding these trends. They are not proportionately investing in each of these stops based on consumer behavior, and are not customizing content to the consumer’s specific need.

From a platform perspective, advertisers overwhelmingly favor Amazon and Google despite consumer preference for a wide range of retail sites. As mentioned above, 85% of browsing and purchasing activity occurs with non-Amazon retailers; however, our research found that only 25% of US brands have a strategy for e-commerce retailers beyond Amazon. This misalignment is particularly noticeable in specific verticals. For example, our research has found that while 20% of consumers have visited Best Buy to view product descriptions, only 8% of consumer electronics retailers say they have created specific content for their PDPs (product description pages) on this website. Overall, only 4% of brands optimize their PDPs on non-Amazon retailers, only 3% track their organic search rankings on these sites, and just 2% buy display or paid search ads on sites like Walmart, Target, and Macy’s.

Advertisers recognize the need for clearly defined cross-retailer advertising programs. Search marketing is key to the success of those programs.

Advertisers are not yet delivering the cross-retailer experiences that audiences crave. However, they do recognize the massive opportunity it presents. “More accurate consumer targeting across retailers” was voted the biggest opportunity in e-commerce today (29%) and in five years’ time (23%) in our advertiser survey. How do they get there? How do advertisers maximize their visibility and sales across all relevant retailers and search engines for their business?

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  • Start with business goals:Brand stakeholders must have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve through e-commerce marketing. Budgets, strategies, and KPIs need to ladder up to business goals.
  • Take a holistic view of e-commerce:Use consumer behavior data across search engines and retailers to inform your strategy, and double down on what sells.
  • Look beyond Amazon and Google:Consumer behaviors are unpredictable. The empowered modern audience will browse and purchase on their own terms, with 85% of these actions occurring with non-Amazon retailers.
  • Remember that retail websites are query based platforms:From both an organic and paid perspective, keyword strategies should be the foundation of your e-commerce marketing strategy.
  • Use advanced analytics to optimize for performance: Standard data sets do not support the whole picture. API-based dashboards can integrate data from multiple sources to provide a true, holistic view of actionable insights for optimizing your e-commerce marketing programs.
  • Integrate internal teams: Search comes in various shapes and sizes today, across Google, Amazon, and a growing list of other retailers. Search can also be accessed through voice, image, or text.
  • Prioritize budgets to align with consumer journeys:The most expensive—and most profitable—stage of the consumer journey is the purchasing phase, of course. Sophisticated marketers are considering this fact as just one element of a broader strategy.
  • Collaborate with the right agency partners:The landscape is fragmented and new platforms will continue to arise and grow. Working with a disparate team of niche specialist partners only heightens the challenge for brands. Instead, work with an agency partner that has deep expertise in all areas of e-commerce and search marketing.

Catalyst is a search and social marketing company that serves the Fortune 1000.

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