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SearchTHIS: Apparel Behavior Unleashed

Kevin M. Ryan
SearchTHIS: Apparel Behavior Unleashed Kevin M. Ryan

Yahoo!’s latest round of search research in the apparel category continues to shed some light on the mind of the searcher and buying behavior. The retail category online is exploding, so making a connection to a buyer with search is still a mystery for many.

While understanding retail shopping behavior is an important aspect of search, many have to understand the impact of site, search and purchase interaction. Yahoo! was quick to point out the importance of multi-channel strategic executions and measuring beyond immediate search behavior, but apparel brands still have a lot of important questions unanswered.

What impact does shopping behavior have on search? Conversely -- and perhaps more importantly -- how does a consumer reach out to a shopping site via search? Let’s take another look into buying and search behavior to get the answers.

Beyond the click

Marketers have discovered that a purchase does not necessarily occur online, though it may be driven by online behavior. Further, the search experience provides a diverse outline of buying behavior and it may take buyers a bit of time to make up their minds about a purchase.

Apparel buyers are finicky. The very personal decision-making process of apparel selection is witnessed in the Yahoo! study’s key findings. Users conducted multiple searches and made multiple store visits during the purchase process and in a 60-day period averaged over five apparel searches.

Synching up with other studies in this arena is critical. Much of what we have learned in the past year about buying behavior leads us in the direction of measurement beyond the direct conversion. In the Yahoo! study, only about 20 percent of purchases were made directly from a search while nearly 80 percent were made later.

Redefining success

The endless cookie debate aside, it should be painfully clear to any marketer attempting to assign an actual value to search advertising that purchases go well beyond 30 days. Of the Yahoo! report’s 80 percent latent purchases, 15 percent were beyond 30 days.

Search behavior seemed a bit unusual in the apparel-buying process as well. Searchers spent a third more time interacting with site features while shopping. They were far more likely to view sizing information, peruse shipping options and check out store locators.

The message here is clear. In order to measure the value of search accurately an advertiser must not only assign value to extended measurement capabilities (beyond short-term cookies) but must also look to other measurement criteria such as telephone and in-store sales. Unique tracking numbers and term-specific testing are a great place to start in this process.

Multi-channel interference

The enhanced search interaction is an area where multi-channel opportunities can be explored as well. We know from multiple other research sources that online purchases are made offline. The study’s evidence of store locator interactions is proof positive of this behavior; 30 percent were more likely to research store locations.

A whopping 78 percent of those who purchased apparel offline after using search reported that search influenced their store visits and purchases. Nearly 50 percent of those buyers also made purchases online, and they spent 26 percent more. 

Although locator tools can simply be used to answer purchase questions or evaluate return possibilities, the notion of encouraging multiple purchase points is clear. The apparel study highlights the use of gift cards and the continued trend of offering in-store pickup as key tactics of a multi-channel purchase strategy.

Good advice

The Yahoo! study rounds out with some great tips for marketers as they continue to bridge the knowledge gap between sound understanding and purchase hypothesis. Measurement is critical, but tracking solutions that go beyond simply understanding immediate click behavior is key to understanding how users interact with search and your site.

These tracking solutions include a plethora of key understandings, but much of the work surrounding this knowledge is a manual process with multiple sources or vendor relationships. Many marketers use one tool for paid search, another for organic search and still another for site side analytics. The list of sources continues for measuring call volume and cross channel strategy development.

If the downside of the knowledge equation lies in the time-intensive information gathering and analysis, then the upside is getting in touch with your buying audience. The evidence of increased purchase behavior is a key motivator in pulling all of these pieces together.

Future think… much later

We now know beyond the shadow of any doubt that offline factors influence search and purchase behavior. We know that buyers are seeking multiple options for purchase. We also know the online interaction and measuring the value of a search interaction require the use of advanced tracking and accountability methodologies, regardless of the category.

The convergence of video and directive search is on the minds of every search provider. As we advance beyond simple search technologies to coerce a purchase, these early studies and the subsequent data gathering will lead us into the next generation of not only defining search but also determining the best way to listen to and answer our customers' demands.

Additional resources:
Yahoo! has not released the study that informs this week's column, but if you'd like a copy please email me and I'll see that you get one.


iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.
Kevin Ryan is Managing Partner at
Kinetic Results.

When gaming is good

Gamification is immensely helpful for creating good habits, such as daily running or exercise. The rewards system helps get you into the habit of running, visiting the gym, or eating within certain calorie limits. There are gamification applications that can get into each of these the habits. Once you form a new habit, the need for the gaming is gone as the habit becomes a part of your daily routine.

So gamification has the ability to motivate you to act, but the choice is still yours whether or not to actually act. The app can alter your thought process and make it more desirable and likely you'll get out and run, bike, or swim. But it can't force your hand. Even in the cases where gamification works well, it is merely a tool.

Where gaming gets ugly

In an employee advocacy program, gamification is a nemesis for some. Employees who come into the program with existing social media followings may seem like instant "winners" in a way that's unfair, and other participants may actually be disincentivized from participating at all. Furthermore, any structured game may draw out the inevitable efforts of some to be "gaming the system," which is encouraging only to those who are winning the game.

How gaming enhances employee advocacy

With the rise of leadership boards in many workplaces, high ranking and achieving employee advocates can be compelled by the public recognition they receive. Also, some companies may use a gamified process or platform they use to train and support employees on the employee advocacy software and program, which can help reduce the cost of onboarding new employees into an advocacy system and can help ensure they succeed. New entrants are added to the system in a way that speeds their learning and ensures their ongoing delivery, as well as helping them to create more lasting and meaningful connections with the employees who've been in the program awhile.

Consider private or team gamification

For employees who are deterred by the gamification aspects of competing with others, especially in scenarios that seem unfair, consider making gamification a private issue. For example, make the metrics of each individual's participation in the program appear only for themselves and for the manager, with the leaderboard that appears for everyone being only an aggregate measure of what the team has produced as a whole. This is a program that works well for publication platforms such as Forbes.com that rely on heavy involvement from individual contributors. By allowing the individuals to see the statistics of the following and readership they create even day by day and hour by hour, individuals are naturally motivated to accomplish more and to do better, even without the promise of a reward or the knowledge of how they're doing compared to anyone else.
Social media sharing data is very much the same as a traditional publishing platform. Consider the possibility of rewards being private for each team member, and based on percentage of growth or based on individual goals between the member and the manager. These tweaks to the system can help to avoid discouragement over a system that makes it appear that the same participants always win, or that they win for reasons that are insurmountable or unfair.

Team projects can provide a fun view of gamification, while increasing enthusiasm for gamified projects that are clearly intended in a spirit of teamwork and fun.

Using gamification to collect great data

By now it should be no secret that companies use gamification to gather information about you as a consumer -- your likes, dislikes, friends, personality types, and even the ways you like to spend your personal time. This can be beneficial or annoying. But what about turning the tables by allowing gamification data within your employee advocacy software to become a source of beneficial information for you? When employees post often, the nature of the information spreads virally, versus the tidbits that drop like a bomb. This information can provide valuable data points for your brand activity, which your gamification efforts can help you to compile and collect on the fly.
Overall, remember that gamification is simply a technology implementation of human nature, and that all human beings are unique. The aspects of gamification that will succeed or fail in any real-world implementation will depend on the nature of the company, its culture, and even the individuals themselves. As you develop your company's own program, take the time to explore the aspects of gamification that will be most motivating and fruitful for you.

Eric Roach is co-founder and CEO at EveryoneSocial.

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