By Chris Pitt, Managing Director, Vertical Leap
If the tumultuous past few years have taught retailers anything it’s to not make assumptions about how UK consumers will shop next week, let alone for the rest of the decade.
Successful retail strategy is founded on certainty about today mixed with a magical ability to plan for tomorrow. But amid steep inflation, the attendant cost-of-living crisis and pandemic shockwaves that turbo-charged the shift to online shopping, how can we really have any idea what will happen next?
The answer is already at retailers’ fingertips. More specifically, it’s camouflaged in huge quantities of search data running through Google.
Everything you need to know about shopping is there, hidden not far beneath the surface in compelling consumer insights. You’re probably too busy to delve into the details; so we’ve done it for you.
Trend #1: Online window of opportunity
UK consumers are spending increasing amounts of time ‘window shopping’ online, and discovering new brands as a result. Rather than searching for particular products by specific brands, shoppers are looking further afield for inspiration.
According to Google data, generic queries like “dewy foundation” and “best couch” are growing faster than branded queries. At the same time, Google has seen a 40% increase in searches for clothes in specific colours (Jan 2019-Aug 2022).
The rise in online window shopping and more generic queries raises opportunities and risks for UK retailers.
Consumers are more likely to discover new brands and products, opening up opportunities for retailers to win new customers. But the consequence of this is existing customers becoming more likely to shop elsewhere.
Takeaway: Retailers will need to work harder to retain customers and build loyal relationships.
Trend #2: One size won’t fit all
Google data suggests consumers are exposed to more choice than ever. As a result, shoppers are more fickle than in previous years.
In a joint study with Trinity McQueen, Google finds that 51% of fashion shoppers tried a new brand in 2022. This rose from 24% in 2020 and 34% in 2021.
The same study also finds consumers are now more likely to try new brands and retailers online than through physical stores. This emphasises the opportunities for retailers to win new customers through online channels.
Crucially, it also reveals a potential retention strategy for retailers that can encourage existing customers to hit the shops.
In a recent Google report, entitled The future of U.K. shopping, marketing expert Seth Godin states retailers will approach new challenges in one of two ways. Some will try to be everything to everyone while others will double down on being unique and relevant to their target audiences. Godin says the companies doing the latter are seeing customer loyalty increase even as consumers become more fickle.
Takeaway: Retailers must double down on audience targeting. Know your target shoppers and make campaigns even more relevant to their specific needs.
Trend #3: Know what consumers really value
Amid price rises, recognise that people aren’t necessarily looking for cheaper items. Quality is still a key factor, even if consumers have to prioritise some purchases over others.
With consumers shopping around the balance of quality and cost is more important than ever. Google says it has seen more than a 40% increase in search interest on YouTube for terms including “review”.
Meanwhile, 88% of consumers say YouTube makes it easier to decide what to buy.
In other words, shoppers want to know they’re getting a good deal when they buy from a retailer, and this sensitivity only increases during difficult times.
Emphasising product value is key. To emulate the experience of inspecting products before purchasing in-store on your product pages, Google recommends:
- high-quality images
Additionally, you can work on improving the overall customer experience. That way, you’re not only increasing the value and quality perception for new customers but also incentivising loyalty among existing customers. This will be particularly important for retailers selling both online and in-store.
Takeaway: As consumers spend less of their money on non-essential purchases, retailers need to emphasise the value of products.
Trend #4: Omnichannel is here to stay
The pandemic forced consumers to spend more of their money online – more tellingly, they are now continuing to do so. This includes many people who may have previously bought little online.
As a result new audiences are accessible – but pre-Covid audience insights will be less relevant. Insights from Google and Trinity McQueen find that consumers increasingly believe online shopping beats in-store experiences in several ways:
- 40% of UK consumers say browsing for products is better online (+12%)
- 33% say getting the product home quickly is better online (+10%)
- 26% say getting help and advice about products is better online (+9%)
Retailers that understand customer preferences for online and in-store shopping are best positioned to build omnichannel experiences that keep them coming back for more.
The same study also reveals how consumers are searching before they visit stores on the high street. It finds 30% of retail consumers say they browse online most or every time they purchase in-store. Likewise, 24% say they go into a store most or every time they purchase online.
Consumers are actively bridging the gap between on- and offline interactions with brands. Retailers need to take advantage of this. Local SEO for retailers with physical locations a growing factor. Google says it has seen a +950% increase in “near me” searches between Jan 2018 and Aug 2022.
The search giant says, once consumers have narrowed down their options with online research, they’re using local search to find out where to go.
Google’s The future of U.K. shopping report says that while many retailers are focusing on flagship stores, the fastest-growing companies are often those opening smaller spaces in more locations.
Takeaway: If you can be visible for the online research consumers perform and have a physical location within their reach, you’re in a much better position to cover the whole consumer journey.
As we move from pandemic to permacrisis, uncertainty continues to pile up and search data will be even more important in 2023.
Insights from consumer studies are often out of date before they’re even published – but search data provides a live view of what consumers are looking for, and what they’re doing in real-time.
Embracing search and the golden thread of data it provides will be key for retailers seeking to understand uncertainty ahead and make strategic marketing decisions.