How We Buy: Search Engine to Site to Store

iProspect, Searchandise Commerce and Comscore recently published an eye-opening study titled The Value of Retail Search and Position. A combination of survey based analysis and dynamic focus groups were used to track the purchase path shoppers take to research and buy electronics and computer products.

From the study:

“…Searchandise Commerce and iProspect wanted to more closely analyze the role of various search influences, and better understand if the basic tenets of search engine marketing – the value of premium positions within search results – held true for retail site search as well”.

Although primarily concerned with understanding the impact on purchaser behavior of a product’s search position on a retail sites search results, the study is fairly comprehensive in analyzing the purchase path shoppers take to research and buy consumer electronics and computer products. I wanted to take a moment to focus on the broader conclusions that emerged from the study that have implications for all e-commerce search marketers:

  • The shopping process begins, but doesn’t always end online:
    While two-thirds of shoppers begin the shopping process online; nearly half end up purchasing offline.  Some search marketers (understandably) often end up falling into the ‘conversion vortex’—that place where we tunnel vision in on conversions as the sole measure of SEO success.   This data point serves as a reminder that conversions are certainly the end game but there are other distinct benefits of ranking high in the search results that are not reflected in the “conversions” tab of our analytics software, including brand exposure, and offline purchasing.
    Put another way, the value of SEO is not strictly measurable by conversions.
    • Search engines used early in the shopping process:
      Search engines are top of mind for purchasers as they turn to the search box in the first or second step in the shopping process more than any other resource.  Despite the industry hype around social, a negligible percentage start their search by consulting a blog or social networking site.

  • Search engines used for wide variety of purposes in the shopping process:The immediacy and flexibility of a search engine means shoppers look to leverage them for a wide variety of purposes.  Shoppers turn to search engines for customer and expert reviews, price, and recommendations.

Shoppers turn to the search box in the first or second step in the shopping process more than any other resource.

The Value of Retail Search and Position
iProspect, Searchandise Commerce and Comscore Study

This study gives insight into how consumers use search in their research and purchase process and how search results can influence both online and offline behaviors.  The takeaway is that search is as important a medium as ever in the purchase process. So, as you put together your plans for moving more product, remember that you can kick start your sales, offline and online, with a good search campaign.

Do any of the study’s results surprise you? Do you draw any different conclusions?  Please feel free to comment below.

Nathan Safran
Senior Research Analyst

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