10 Feb 2012

Online Shopping Trends Tell Tales

Earlier this week, ComScore released their latest report on online spending in 2011. And the general trend is: it’s up. The fact that Internet spending is continuing its skyward trajectory holds several implications for online businesses, both obvious and subtle.

Search Engine Journal summarized the findings like this:

“Online shoppers spent a record breaking $161.5 billion in 2011. This 13% increase over 2010 was assisted by several top-performing product categories, which each experienced a minimum of 18% growth compared to last year. Some of the top-performing categories included: digital content and subscriptions, jewelry and watches, consumer electronics, software and toys.

Mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, also contributed to the increase in sales last quarter. As a result of widespread mobile usage and strategic marketing campaigns by Amazon and other large Internet retailers, the use of price-checking apps became mainstream. These apps allow shoppers to easily research pricing, features and order from online retailers while shopping in physical stores.”


Reading Between the Lines

If you read this once, you may think, “Huh, interesting.” But if you read it a few more times and start to think about what this trend tells us, you may think, “VERY interesting.” Because buried in there are a few insights that can impact your online marketing strategy.

Digital Content

The fact that digital content and subscription-based services showed significant growth means that websites, in any niche, should at least consider this option. Digital content can be anything from E-books to videos, email newsletters and even RSS feeds. While many websites have been dabbling in creating videos, whitepapers, podcasts and the like, these purchasing patterns show that there is some potential in monetizing these items. Whether you’re an eCommerce site with tangible products or an information-based site, it may be worth considering digital content as an additional revenue stream.

At the very least this should be an impetus to launch the exploratory process. Start researching the most successful digital content and subscription-based services in your industry. Determine if you have the resources to get in the game and if it would be worth the investment. Just remember, the web is full of great free content and communities, so if you are going to ask people to pay for something, it needs to be spectacular. But the simple fact that consumer spending on digital content is on the rise indicates that if you’re willing to create something worth buying, there is likely a market for it.

Mobile Devices

The increased consumption of mobile Internet devices from smartphones to tablets is another strong indicator of the direction websites need to go. The question of whether or not you “need a mobile website” is becoming obsolete, as in there is no question anymore—the answer is yes. Reports 2 years ago were predicting that mobile web use would dominate by 2015 and we’re about halfway there. Current statistics point to 1.2 billion active mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide. The prevalence of mobile devices using broadband connections demands that websites in every market adapt to the fact that users will visiting their sites on smaller screens, and at this point, you adapt or perish.

But it also continues to propel us forward in terms of local search marketing. One of the most appealing features of the mobile web is the ability to instantly locate products and services in your immediate vicinity. For a business with a geographically-focused customer-base, there is no way around local search. Claiming your listings, optimizing them and getting online reviews is more important than ever. Rick did an amazing job of dissecting local search yesterday, so I won’t re-make his case. But I will reiterate that getting found in local search and then offering users a well-done mobile site will be the key to gaining that immediate business that can come from the use of mobile devices.


Connecting the Real World with the Cyber One

The last trend this report shares with us is the continuing need to bridge the gap between the real world and the cyber one.

This section in particular speaks to this demand:

“As a result of widespread mobile usage and strategic marketing campaigns by Amazon and other large Internet retailers, the use of price-checking apps became mainstream. These apps allow shoppers to easily research pricing, features, and order from online retailers while shopping in physical stores.”

The idea that someone can be in your store, locate the same product online, purchase it, and then leave your store without giving you a dime is somewhat scary.

But it encourages businesses, both brick-and-mortar and online alike, to find their own ways of connecting to customers, both in person and on the web. We’re forced to reconsider the question of why should someone buy here and now and from us? It seems that convenience is no longer sufficient motivation in all cases.

Beyond that, it asks us to adapt to emerging trends. Some of the most popular web-to-life connectors are mobile apps and QR codes. Creating a mobile app for your website isn’t necessarily cheap, and if it’s simply a novelty app, it may not be worth the investment. But if an app is functional, like price scanners, inventory checkers or offers additional product info or options, then it can help you generate more sales.

QR codes have the potential to drive revenue, but they are also an effective marketing tool. By including QR codes on products and advertisements, you can bring customers to a website from a flyer or you can provide them with coupons to come to a store. But you can also use them to promote future special events, charity programs or brand messaging. You can also have fun with QR codes planting “Easter eggs,” using humor or video content. With free QR code generators everywhere, this can also be a very cost effective approach to improving your marketing as well as increase business. The technology to bring online and offline experiences together is here. The opportunities in these areas may be endless, but the time to think about it is not.

These “trends” shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Predictions about the growing importance of mobile search and usability, local search, digital content, apps and QR codes started years ago. But for those looking for something more tangible than a forecast, if you follow the money, it looks like we’ve arrived. When it comes to implementing these marketing strategies the options are simple: lead, follow or lose customers to someone else.