SearchTHIS: Apparel Behavior Unleashed

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.