Commentary

Traditional Brick-And-Mortar Retailers Slowly Catching On To Online Search Marketing

SearchBlogPackagesWhile it may not come as a shock to online advertisers and marketers to find pure-play Internet giants at the top of the list for companies most likely to take America's dollars this holiday season, it's important to note that the study also reveals that traditional brick-and-mortar stores continue to lose the battle for online sales. Most just can't apply learned physical-world strategies to the Web.

A Conductor study released this week identifies Amazon, Zappos, Overstock, and eBay as being the top retailers most likely to take the majority of online consumer spending during the 2011 holiday season. These companies -- known for being most familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), paid search, and all-around online customer buying and return habits -- appear to be maintaining an edge on traditional retailers. I can completely understand why.

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Conductor Senior Research Analyst Nathan Safran has a slightly different perspective. He found the "solid showing by the big-box department stores" surprising. Historically, they have not done well in natural search, reminding me that back in 2009, Conductor published a study on the natural search visibility of the big-box retailers showing that Target was buying nearly half of their search traffic from Google on paid search to the tune of several hundreds of thousands of dollars daily.

"Given the large sample size and focus on retail of the keyword studies, the study suggests they are taking natural search -- their biggest online channel -- far more seriously," Safran said, noting that the company was "fairly rigorous" about the methodology and sample size.

Perhaps I have simply turned into an online shopping junkie with zero desire to walk in a store to find specific items among rows of overstocked shelves. I would much rather open a browser, type in a specific URL to find the retailer's Web site, enter a term in the box and hit the search button, rather than try and find the items in any one of several dozen display or product aisles. 

I nearly made it through the entire pre-holiday season without setting foot in a store, but on Wednesday night I popped into Best Buy to try and find the movie "Lion King" on Blu-Ray for a friend after checking stock availability online. Given enough time, I would have bought it on bestbuy.com -- which, by the way, ranked No. 5 in Conductor's top 10 retailers best positioned to take America's money online during the 2011 holiday season. I became so overwhelmed in Best Buy with the inability to sort through the mess to find the one DVD I nearly walked out of the store. Lucky for me a salesperson knew exactly where to look for the item. 

More than $30 billion was spent in the first 46 days of the November-December 2011 holiday season -- up 15% compared with the same time person a year ago, according to comScore. The Conductor study also cites stats from Marketing Sherpa estimating that 81% of all online adults research products using a search engine and 71% buy something using a search engine.

The study breaks down the retail sites by category, such as Clothing, Electronics, and Health and Beauty. For clothing, Zappos took the No. 1 spot, capturing the largest percentage of traffic this holiday season. Focusing on long-tail queries, Zappos ranked on page 1, for the most queries. Shopping engine Nextag captures the fourth-greatest amount of traffic.  

In the Health and Beauty category, Amazon took the top spot, capturing the largest number of visitors from search in the category.  Drugstore .com came in a close second, ranking on page 1 for a large number of high-volume keywords.  Health and Beauty as a category had a broad representation of diverse domains coming up in the search results with appearances by online retailers, such as drugstore.com and overstock.com for brand names like esteelauder.com, loreal.com, macys.com, and walgreens.com.

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