Study: Retailers' Search Engines Drive Online Purchases

Marketers who sell to consumers online would be well-advised to purchase premium placement in retailers' on-site search engines, at least going by information in a new report issued Tuesday by DoubleClick. The study, DoubleClick's latest quarterly e-commerce trend report, found that 2.1 percent of consumers who visited a retail site's search engine made a purchase in the third quarter of this year--up from 1.5 percent in the third quarter of last year.

In total, 9.3 percent of e-commerce sales came from the search function on shopping sites, compared to 6.6 percent a year earlier. Of those who bought products through on-site search in the third quarter, the average order size per online buyer grew to $126 from $100 in the same period last year.

Search engines are particularly important because most online consumers still don't know exactly what they want when surfing for products online, said Patti Freeman Evans, a JupiterResearch e-commerce analyst. "On-site search presents a tremendous opportunity to influence purchasing decisions," she said.



Freeman added that retailers can also use their sites to highlight items that are high margin, overstocked, or close to out of stock. She said that many large marketers have a site similar to's "We Recommend" section, which gives marketers the opportunity for premium placements on their on-site search pages.

The report says that marketers should also be aware that consumers shop in different ways. "Marketers need to understand how consumers use [retailers'] on-site search engines," said Richard Fleck, DoubleClick strategic services manager. There are searchers who are actively searching for specific products, and others who are simply browsing--waiting for something to catch their attention.

Jupiter's Freeman added that some active searchers don't do a lot of research ahead of time, while others plan their shopping strategies very carefully, visiting product pages an average of 2.5 times before making a decision.

Fleck said that marketers should react to the different consumers in a similar manner: through a call to action that leads them down a certain purchasing path.

Freeman said that online retail marketing should always be proactive, but there should be a specific call to action for different demonstrated behaviors. To achieve best results, Freeman said retailers need to deploy sophisticated tracking tools to aid marketers to that end. Behavioral targeting, for example, is something several retailers are looking into, she said.

Other e-commerce report data said that shoppers are spending 10 percent less time on commerce sites during their shopping sessions. Third-quarter 2004 data said users spent 4.4 minutes at each site compared to 4.9 minutes a year earlier, and far less time on each page--29 seconds in 2004 versus 43 in 2003. Users are also viewing more pages during each site visit--10.3 pages versus 7.7 year-over-year.

Those results jibe with a report of the Online Publishers Association released earlier this week, showing that consumers are spending a smaller proportion of their online time at commerce sites (See MDN, "OPA: Users Spending More Time At Entertainment And News Sites" Nov. 2).

It is unclear how much of that change can be attributed to increased broadband adoption; Nielsen//NetRatings reported in July that broadband usage surpassed dial-up among Internet users. DoubleClick said the report did not differentiate between dial-up and broadband users.

The trend report shows that shopping cart abandonment continues to grow. Of those who initially add something to their carts, 57 percent abandon the carts without making a purchase--up from 53 percent a year ago. However, once shoppers start the checkout process, more are going through with the purchase. Checkout conversion increased to 63 percent in the third quarter--up from 59 percent in same period a year ago.

The data for the report comes from DoubleClick's SiteAdvance, a hosted Web site measurement and analysis product for online marketers. The results are based on hundreds of millions of unique visitors, tens of millions of online shopping carts, and over $1 billion in total e-commerce sales. DoubleClick began collecting and compiling this data in second quarter 2003.

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