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10 Trends about the Future of Shopping

17 min read

Shane Lyons, Head of Search Strategy

by Shane Lyons, Head of Search Strategy


This is an extract from a talk at Dublin’s digital conference, 3XE 2019.


There has been a lot written recently about the death of the high street here in Ireland and that might be slightly overblown but to consider some factors, in the last year alone we have seen iconic brands like HMV close their doors, we’ve seen an Argos store that was operating for twenty years announce their closure in Cork city and there’s been a general narrative of a retail apocalypse with the increased popularity of online clothing brands. On the flip side there has obviously been huge growth in eCommerce. As consumers we have shifted our shopping behaviour to online for a whole host of products from furniture to electronics to fashion and most recently to groceries.

Most estimates put the value of Irish online shopping at up to €5 billion in 2019 and it is forecasted that the eCommerce space will grow by a further 73% between now and 2024. So, what can retailers do in the search and digital space to stay competitive. We have put together a list of the top ten trends that we think will impact the eCommerce space into the future.


10 – Local matters

Earlier this year Google reported a 250% increase in queries including “near me” in the US in the last two years and looking at Ireland specifically we can see we are definitely following this trend.

Adding a location or “near me” to a query shows a really strong signal of intent making these terms really valuable for marketers as it demonstrates the user’s eagerness to take immediate action on the search results.

If we delve into the results on Google trends we can see historically these terms were related to food and restaurants but when we look at the breakout queries, as in the terms that are on the on the rise – they are more retail focused such as shops, pharmacy and other retail “near me.” So, this is a huge area of growth and the opportunity here is to get your local SEO in order.

Recently in Core, we did a project for a client where we focussed on improving their Google My Business results. By Claiming and verifying ownership, completing location information (correct pin placement), adding info like opening hours, and uploading photos, we were able to increase site traffic by 35% in a short space of time.


9 – Overlay your PPC with Audience data

With PPC, keyword-based targeting is obviously very powerful and gives us a good idea what that person is interested in but by overlaying Audiences you can improve your targeting even further.

Audiences can be categorised into three different types, you have:

Detailed demographics: which is where you can not only alter your strategy by age and gender, you can now pull in certain life stages such as Parental Status, Education and even Income level to your targeting.

In Market audiences: who are users actively considering buying a product or service based off their recent search history. These audiences can help advertisers get conversions from likely buyers.

Re-marketing Audiences: these are an audience of people who have interacted with your site in a certain way, so for example you could create an audience of people who have added products to their shopping cart but not proceeded to sale.

So let’s say that you are an online electronics retailer and you are looking to sell high end smart TV’s. You might bid on the term ‘flat screen smart tv’ and your ad will be exposed to a lot of different users. But to boost your targeting you could focus on In-market audience of users who are actively looking to purchase tv’s. Next you could use Re-marketing to filter to users who have been on your site previously. Finally, considering the TV sets you are selling are high end, using Detailed demographics you could target high income earners more aggressively. You are left with is an extremely targeted message focused directly on your ideal consumers.


8 – Employ Machine Learning

We already use versions of AI and machine learning in our daily lives through Google Maps our personalised playlists on Spotify. But Smart Bidding is Googles machine learning bid strategy which uses thousands of real time bidding signals. It can Analyse 70 million signals in 100 milliseconds. It tracks and analyses signals from every search and every click. Machine learning can pick out the minute-yet-significant variations in user behaviour that stem from differences in time, re-marketing lists, language, operating system, query, creative, browser, demographic and more!! They will learn and change based on your performance meaning the most sophisticated real time bid changes that focus on your business goals.

We recently tested changing from a position-based strategy to a conversion based smart bidding strategy for one of our clients and saw an increase from 15,000 bid changes per month to over 80,000 changes per month. Not only would this be impossible to do manually but smart bidding includes signals which are hidden from us in the interface signals so wouldn’t even be possible if we tried.

In this particular case we saw a 25% decrease in CPA. Our recommendation with smart bidding is to ensure that your strategy matches your business goals, test a significant length of time (at least a month maybe more until you have a statistically significant result), test using experiments this ensures you are analysing like for like (making sure seasonality and offers aren’t skewing your results).


7 – Search Results Becoming More Visual

An interesting development in the search space is that search results are becoming more visual and as a result increased volume of traffic are entering sites from the visual rather than web results.

Try search for “mens checked shirts” and you will see how the results are displayed. At the top of the page, you will see Google Shopping ads for the different brands at the top of the page, then you will see organic image listings and finally the organic listings that are also pulling in some images to the display format. So, it’s clear that to stand out amongst other retailers it will be extremely important to have an image-based presence on the search results.

The most common way you will be able to achieve this is by running Google shopping as a format from a paid perspective and then organically you should ensure that all your images on site are tagged up with alt text so that they may rank organically.


6 – Integration is key

When working on a marketing strategy do you ever get asked should it be traditional or digital?

Australian Marketing Professor, Mark Ritson writes for marketing week and talks a lot about marketing effectiveness and integrated channel approaches.

In a recent YouTube video Mark said “Diversity wins when it comes to channel choice. The answer when it comes to should we be ‘traditional’ or ‘digital’ is yes.”  “We should be both. We should combine the power of TV with the power of Facebook, outdoor and Google.”

To back this up he referred to a study from a company called Analytics partners who studied over 3,000 campaigns to look at ROI when additional channels were added. What the study found was that when a second channel was added they saw a 19% increase in incremental ROI, when a 3rd was added that increased to 23%, a 4th meant the figure went to 31% a 5th saw 35%. The clear learning was that as you add more channels you see a greater and greater return telling us diversity wins when it comes channel choice.


5 – The Need for Speed

The next key trend for retailers is around site speed, obviously we are using our mobiles more and more for online transactions these days and there is nothing more frustrating than slow page load times watching the blue bar slowly load up.

Last year we ran a piece of research analysing the top 100 brands in Ireland and we found that the average Irish website took 10.25 seconds to load which is a long way behind the 3 second rule that Google talk about whereby if your load time is longer than three seconds then 53% of users will abandon your site.

This year we have analysed the average mobile and desktop site speeds of top 20 retailers in Ireland. The results were that at 8.6 seconds mobile still lags well behind Desktop. The vast majority of almost any site traffic is now driven by mobile yet it seems more attention is given to boost desktop site speeds.


4 – Mobile Conversion Rate

We all know the famous graph by now where in 2017 the mobile traffic on Google overtook the desktop traffic but what we probably haven’t talked about enough is how conversion rates on mobile have not grown by anywhere near the same rate. This means that users are still having a bad experience on mobile devices.

We worked closely with a client who was reviewing their sales funnel recently and just by isolating and analysing their mobile traffic, identifying the pain points within the mobile journey to eradicate any obstacles and condensed form fields which resulted in a whopping 67% increase in mobile conversion rates.


3 – Amazon vs Google

Another key factor for the future of online retail will be whenever Amazon roll out their full offering to Ireland. As I’m sure many of you know if you visit Amazon here in Ireland, we are defaulted to the UK site so we can’t avail of as many of the benefits of Amazon Prime that subscribers get in other regions.

In the US, Amazon is insanely popular with over 60% of households having access to a Prime subscription. Amazon shoppers are insanely loyal, once a shopper is subscribed to Prime, Amazon automatically becomes first preference for almost any purchase, they have already paid their $119 dollars per year so why not avail of the free, next-day delivery.

Interestingly, in no doubt a bid to combat this, Google recently announced an update to their Shopping format whereby when you are searching for a specific product you can select to ‘track price’ for that product and you will receive price alerts if there are any reductions.


2 – End to End Experience

The future of retail is merging online & offline. Experience is everything for the consumer, who will buy more, be more loyal and share advocacy with their network. The challenge is to use technology to make the in-store experience as seamless as buying online and online the challenge is adding the human experience.

The traditional brick-and-mortar transactional store could disappear and be replaced by an immersive digital experience. This can be done using Virtual and augmented technologies, touch screen or smart ‘virtual shelf’ and Transaction-less experiences.

Two of the biggest names in traditional Irish retailing are Arnotts and Brown Thomas.  The Irish stores are planning to spend €25 million between them over the next five years adapting to online shopping, although both insist that bricks and mortar retailing will always remain core to what they do. They have an “innovation stream” and staff dedicated to finding ways to harness digital technologies. They are exploring ways to bring more of a “human touch” to its online sales.


1 – 5G

A huge factor in how this end to end experience is going to be delivered is through 5G. This is the next iteration of network connectivity that is going to be 100 times faster than the internet speeds you are used to on your phone today. To give that some context, if you wanted to download Braveheart onto your phone, it would take 26 hours on 3G, 6 minutes on 4G and just 3.6 seconds on 5G. So, it is clear that we are headed toward an age of instantaneous access to sites, video streaming, whatever we want so it presents a huge opportunity for retailers.

5G will cater for things like augmented reality store visits where it will be possible to try on shoes or clothes via interactive holograms. There’s also going to be growth in the number of smart devices in our homes so like you can see behind me you may have a smart mirror that can help shoppers assemble outfits or offer virtual make up application.

What’s clear is that the first 20 years of the internet allowed the easy elements of e-commerce to take place – the low hanging fruit.  Whenever 5G does become more mainstream it will allow for everything else.


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