It is impossible to discuss retail without assessing the impact of Covid-19. The pandemic has sparked profound change across society, with lockdown measures rapidly changing consumer behaviour and forcing retailers to adapt in order to survive.
Much of this change stems from the acceleration towards ecommerce. Data from the ONS shows that online sales soared a massive 46% in 2020. Online, multichannel retailers led ecommerce growth, which came as non-essential stores were forced to close and consumers turned online. Good news for online-only brands like ASOS and Boohoo – bad news for highstreet outlets such as Topshop and Debenhams.
This is a double-edged sword for retailers. Not only do you have to adapt your business model and proposition to fit into the new world,the longevity of the pandemic means that new shopping habits fostered by consumers are likely to stick.
To succeed in this new world, retailers need to be able to respond dynamically to new behaviours and demands. More than this, they will need to meet expectations which have been set by some of the biggest and most powerful brands globally.
The right product for the right person
But while the world may have flipped on its head, some rules of retail remain unchanged. In these strange times I reflect on words from marketing guru Seth Godin, who once said “you don’t find customers for your products, you find products for your customers.”
This speaks to two truths in marketing. Firstly, that the customer is at the center of every plan. Secondly, you should know what your customer is searching for – sometimes even before they do.
So how do you best find products for your customers? Google Shopping is a good place to start. The platform allows consumers to search, compare and shop physical products across different retailers – using search data to suggest the most relevant products for each individual customer.
When the users click a link through Google Shopping, they are navigated to the retailer’s own platform to make the purchase. It’s great for driving sales, with research finding that ads on the platform have a 30% higher conversion rate compared to text ads.
But in order for platforms like Google Shopping to be effective, they need to be closely and carefully managed. Selling online is easier than ever before – and consequently more competitive. According to research, spend on Google Shopping Ads is expected to grow to 68% by 2024. A poorly optimised Google Shopping strategy will, therefore, not only waste ad spend but can cause retailers to lose sales to competitors.
Trust in automation
Google Shopping is a highly dynamic retail environment with different brands and products being curated for each individual customer, and consequently it requires retailers to keenly track how their products are performing digitally.
This challenge grows with the size of the retailer and the size of their product catalogue. With large product ranges that change frequently it is immensely difficult for retailers to optimise and measure their Google Shopping performance at a granular SKU and search term level without using tailored AI tools.
Retailers with a larger catalogue often ‘group bid’, either splitting products by category, brand or best sellers. However, it’s actually better to bid on a granular level because blanket bids generalise the results and efficiencies of campaigns as there hundreds of different variables to consider when bidding and each customer’s journey will be different.
The reason most retailers group bid is that it would be virtually impossible to manually bid on every single product in larger catalogues, as the data would be sparse with some products only receiving a handful of clicks and sales making it difficult to meaningfully make an informed bidding decision.
However, AI technology is able to automatically bid on a granular SKU level, using machine learning to optimise different purchase intent terms. This allows retailers to bid at the right price for the right customer at the right time based on the purchase intent of the shopper’s search.
For smaller retailers, Google has its own campaign software called ‘Smart Shopping’, which is a great alternative to manual bidding. It works on an automated ‘set it and forget it’ basis, however the drawback is the data is in a ‘black box’. Google restricts access to vital data such as search terms that could be used to understand the customer journey in more detail – making it difficult for Shopping strategies to be truly data-driven.
Smart Shopping also restricts the effectiveness of campaigns as it doesn’t allow retailers to manage what they monitor. Google Shopping whilst fairly targeted can often match products to incorrect search terms. For example, if you use Smart Shopping to sell Dyson Airblades then it might automatically use the term “Dyson hairdryer”. While this might seem like a minor difference, changes as small as this can make campaigns inefficient and it can lead to a significant waste of adspend.
The pandemic has surged retailers and consumers alike towards ecommerce. Now having intelligent online product discovery is table-stakes for retailers of all sizes. Tools like Google Shopping are great because, to return to the words of Seth Godin, they find the right product for your customers. But in order to maximise the value of these platforms, retailers need to work with the right partners who can ensure the channel is fully optimised and drives value – through both profit and insight.
Liam Patterson is the founder and CEO at Bidnamic