The retail industry is undergoing a significant technological transformation. Thanks to rapid advancements in digital infrastructure, e-Commerce is booming (with huge scope for further growth) – now influencing approximately 55% of in-store purchases.
So, given that over HALF of in-store transactions stem from online influence, it’s quite evident that retail merchants can no longer solely rely on their physical presence to not only succeed but to also survive as a business.
Due to the increased accessibility of e-Commerce technology, it is essential that retailers grow their digital footprint to remain competitive in their sector.
Let’s take a look at this year’s e-Commerce trends to see which technological developments are influencing traditional commerce.
1. BRICK & MORTAR STORES
If you haven’t already, you’ll soon start to see a new wave of brick and mortar stores. Although they provide a physical shopping experience for their consumers, these shops first came into their sector as digital businesses.
Canadian parka brand, Kanuk, have wowed us with their unique in-store experience that involves a -25°C room, giving consumers the opportunity to truly feel the effectiveness of the jackets in freezing weather conditions.
Online men’s fashion retailer, Frank and Oak, provides another quirky store experience. All 16 stores located throughout the U.S. offer premium coffee as well as barbershop services to their consumers in order to create a bespoke addition to the shopping experience.
These online retail businesses have succeeded in, not only providing a unique online user experience but also translating that personalized shopping experience into a memorable offline user experience.
2. AUGMENTED REALITY AT HOME
AR is gradually becoming a more prominent component in online retail.
The Ikea app, for example, gives its consumers the ability to place a virtual life-size product in their home to see how it might look before they make their purchase.
Having the capacity to visualize the way in which a product might sit in your own home will increase overall sales as it will boost consumer confidence and certainty.
Web developer and Shopify Expert, Kelly Vaughn, is in agreement with this and has stated that this is just the beginning of AR in e-Commerce: “Imagine being able to test out what furniture may look like in your home or how a standing desk might best work in your office”.
The ROPO ratio (Research Online, Purchase Offline) is an accurate method for assessing the way in which a business’ digital footprint influences their in-store success.
Around 82% of mobile users search for local services via their mobile phone, and 19% of these searches translate into a sale within 24 hours of conducting the search. This positive correlation reflects the importance of tracking the interrelation between e-Commerce and commerce.
Examining the ROPO ratio allows businesses to see which aspects of their online business campaigns e.g. Google Adwords are directly contributing to higher sales rates, and thus they can alter their digital business strategy and implement targeted marketing accordingly.
For example, Matalan’s physical stores have greatly benefitted from its online presence, as every £1 spent on AdWords results in £46 in sales, £31 of which were in-store.
5. MOBILE CHECKOUT
With mobile phones becoming more and more sophisticated in their functionality, the rate of mobile checkouts against desktop checkouts is increasing. It has been predicted that mobiles will be responsible for 70% of e-Commerce traffic by the end of this year.
Significant advancements, therefore, require significant changes, meaning that merchants have to enhance their focus on online mobile retail experiences. Mobile retail developments such as fingerprint and facial recognition have already contributed to making mobile purchase more seamless.
Starbucks experienced this increased rate of mobile checkouts in their physical stores – so much so that the high volume of users making mobile transactions resulted in congestion in their shops!
5. MACHINE LEARNING
Machine learning refers to the way in which technology observes and remembers consumer behavior and then uses this information to perform personalized, targeted marketing.
For example, Netflix’s algorithm for recommending films and TV shows organizes 93 million global users into 1300 taste communities based on their movie and TV preferences.
Not only does this automated experience save online merchants time, but it can also contribute valuable information to businesses which can be translated into marketing campaigns.
For example, UX consultant, Mark Kelso shares his machine learning benefits: “we reworded our abandoned cart emails and have seen an increase in the conversion, for some shops by up to 12%”.
6. VOICE SEARCH
The way in which we communicate through technology is rapidly evolving. The arrival of Alexa and Amazon Echo has introduced voice recognition into our homes. Therefore, e-Commerce platforms will need to become fully optimized for voice search functionality.
Dominos pizza app already has a head start on voice search services. App users can pick their pizza toppings and make the order vocally. Similarly Lyft app permits users to order taxi rides directly from Alexa.
We are just at the beginning of voice control in the e-Commerce sector.
7. DECLINE OF THE BROWSER
Thanks to an expanding variety of information channels e.g. apps, AR functionalities and voice technology, reliance on browsers is expected to wane.
The ability to make transactions through apps or use services embedded in social media platforms are also contributing factors to the decline in browser usage.
WalMart and Amazon are striving to develop a browser-less digital strategy that will provide basic everyday commodities such as milk or batteries.
8. SHOPPING NATIVELY
As mentioned above, many services such as maps are becoming integrated into apps.
This will lead to a greater quantity of consumers purchasing directly from inside an app. For example, Pinterest has integrated a “Shop The Look” functionality, which allows users to click on a product that is featured in a photo, and then be redirected to a purchasing page.
9. IMAGE SEARCH
It is expected that by 2020, about 50% of searches will be conducted through voice or image search.
Visual search tools are on the horizon, and well-established e-Commerce businesses such as eBay have already enabled a visual search tool, which allows users to replace the traditional text search with an image.
This will make comparing prices of and finding a particular product much more convenient for consumers.
10. BETTER PRODUCT IMAGES & VIDEOS
Higher quality product images and videos are key for remaining competitive in the e-Commerce sector. Having unique engaging image/video content that deeply reflects the functionality and design of a product.
For example, Bellroy uses sophisticated video content to display the inside of their wallets and other products, showing the scale of the product, how it can be used and much more. This creates a much more convincing pitch for the consumer to make a purchase.
Check out the full product video here!
In 2017 voice search sales via eCommerce reached a staggering $1.8 billion, with predictions of that number rising to $40 billion by 2022.
With numbers like that, it’s easy to understand why everyone is scrambling to get involved. So, with that in mind, we decided to take a closer look at voice search to see where it’s headed, whether it’s just a fad and how businesses like yours can best optimize for it using voice search SEO.
So first of all, what exactly is voice search?
Voice search, in a nutshell, is the ability to perform a search online using just your voice and a smart device. It works by seamlessly converting spoken words and phrases into written text, this text is then used by search engines to perform a search and present you with relevant results.
The end result is a modern convenience that’s allowing people to perform online searches from the comfort of their sofa without lifting a finger. It also means people can search online during everyday activities, such as driving, gaming or cooking, that would have otherwise been impractical.
All of this, of course, is music to the ears of anyone looking to market their products and services to consumers via voice search engines, as it opens up a lot of new opportunities to sell.
So is voice search a new thing?
Voice search has actually been around a lot longer than you think, with some companies, including Google and Apple, using it in their map offerings for some time now.
Modern-day voice search is actually just the latest application of voice recognition technology, a topic that’s been trending for far longer:
In fact, a company known as Dragon launched ‘Dragon Dictate’, the world’s first speech recognition software for consumers way back in 1990 – just two years after Sega released the first Mega Drive!
It’s the evolution of voice recognition technology, combined with the proliferation of “always-on” smartphones and a growing interest in AI that’s led to the development of modern-day voice search.
A lot of the credit for the recent interest in voice search should go to Apple’s Siri, an app that managed to beat Google to the goal of breaking down the social barriers that prevented people from talking to their smartphones – even if it was just to ask Siri if he was planning to take over the world.
Of course, the real game changer for voice search was the arrival of cutting-edge smart home devices such as Amazon Echo (often called Amazon Alexa) and Google Home. Both of which took the convenience of voice search even further by seamlessly integrating its search capabilities into our homes, workplaces and everyday routines.
You may notice the lack of Cortana on this graph. You can thank the Halo video game series and its graph skewing Cortana character for that.
What does the future of voice search look like?
As you might expect, the widespread uptake of voice search from consumers has kickstarted a race among digital marketers and search engine specialists as they attempt to figure out the best ways to optimize their websites for voice-based searches.
A major factor in voice search optimization is understanding the difference in how people type versus the way they speak when using a search engine. For example, if I wanted to find an Italian restaurant in New York City I’d probably type in shorthand like this: “Italian Restaurants NYC”.
However, if I were to make the same request by voice, I’d be more naturally inclined to use complete sentences, such as: “Show me Italian restaurants in New York City”. These types of searches are often referred to as “long tail keywords”.
For digital marketers, this presents the significant challenge of writing content that can cater to both search habits, particularly on a mobile first internet, where the vast majority of voice searches will originate from smartphones.
Fortunately, Google is making this easier for everyone, thanks to RankBrain, an artificial intelligence based learning system that forms part of their Hummingbird search algorithm. In short, both work together to help Google become “smarter” and better able to predict the meaning behind a users search.
So, rather than reacting to the short tail (or shorthand) words and phrases that people are used to typing into Google, the system focuses instead on proactively understanding the wider topic and the intention behind a users interest in it.
Is voice search here to stay?
If you’re wondering if voice search is just a passing trend then the following stats and predictions are definitely food for thought:
- 50% of all internet searches will be voice-based by 2020 according to comScore
- 40% of adults currently use voice search at least once a day according to Location World
- 13% of households in the United States owned a smart speaker in 2017. This is predicted to rise to 55% by 2022 according to OC&C Strategy Consultants
- There were an estimated 1bn monthly voice searches as of January 2018 according to Alpine.AI
And, just for the sake of comparison, here is a how the topic of purchasing a smart home device is trending worldwide:
Again, Cortana is excluded thanks to the selfish antics of the Master Chief.
How can companies optimize for voice search?
As we alluded to earlier, a lot of voice search optimization relates to your content. You should be writing content that flows like a natural conversation with longer tail keywords rather than focusing on specific “shorthand” keywords. There are a number of other things you can do too.
Let’s start with how you describe your products
You might be tempted to write war and peace in your product descriptions, but really the better approach for voice search (and for SEO/User experience in general) is to be concise first, with full detail afterward.
The reason for this is because when prompted, Alexa will read out the product title and price first, before asking the user if they want to hear more. If the user says yes, Alexa will then read out the average rating and the number of reviews.
What follows next is the critical part. Alexa will then search for a list (such as a bullet point list) that can be read aloud within 15-20 seconds. Any longer than that and the user might lose interest. If Alexa is known to focus on lists, then it’s likely that other voice search optimized devices will do the same.
You should aim to include this bullet point list before your full-length product description. This list should focus on benefits first, features after. If you don’t know the difference between features and benefits, it’s well worth finding out.
Optimise for questions and provide the answers
As we mentioned earlier, most voice searches tend to be “long tail” meaning they are more likely to resemble complete sentences. Additionally, in many cases, these sentences are likely to be questions that feature intent based words like “How”, “Best”, “Where” and “Top”.
So for example, rather than writing “Golf equipment” you should be writing longer tail question phrases such as “Where to buy golfing equipment” or “Best places to buy golfing equipment”.
It can be challenging (but not impossible) to integrate long tail keywords into prominent places such as your product titles and bullet points. So a great alternative is to create landing pages, blog posts and FAQ pages that can target questions, provide answers and direct users towards product pages.
Try to earn featured snippets
A featured snippet, sometimes known as an instant answer or position zero, is when Google serves up an answer to your question without you having to leave Google. For example, Googling “How old is Tom Cruise” will give you this result. Which, if I may digress for a moment, will probably make you wonder if you are using the wrong wrinkle cream.
Earning yourself a featured snippet takes a bit of work, but the pay off is that if Google considers you to be the best possible source for an answer to that question, you’re likely to also be the first choice for a voice search too. And even if you’re not, position zero will still earn you a ton of traditional organic traffic.
Use structured data (schema)
Schema, or microdata, is a way of pairing information with a value. This is known as “marking up” information. So for example, you can mark up your product descriptions with product schema to let search engines know that your content is describing a product.
There are many other ways to mark up your content with schema, but the end result is that your content appears “richer” to search engines, which can positively influence your product rankings. In particular, the use of schema is known to help with earning featured snippets.
Back in 2016 Google announced at the annual I/O conference that 20% of voice searches showed intent, meaning that people aren’t just asking their smart home devices to tell them dirty jokes, they are also asking about prices, locations and recommendations.
If you sell locally, then it’s essential that you leverage local SEO to your advantage to get the most out of these intent related searches.
If you’re unfamiliar with local SEO this includes:
- Making sure you have a verified Google My Business profile so you can be found on Google maps and in the Google local pack
- Getting your business listed on free directory websites
- Earning some backlinks to your website
So in conclusion
Voice search is most definitely here to stay and looks set to keep on growing.
If you’re a business that sells services or products online via eCommerce then it should be among your top priorities to optimize for voice-based searches.
Over the coming months we’ll be keeping a close eye on the growth of voice search, so be sure to check back here for the very latest advice for you and your business.