How consumers shop online changed dramatically in the past year. It has been true for years that most shoppers start their online shopping with a search. And, given Google’s leading position in search, I assumed that shoppers mostly started with a Google search.

But that was not true in 2016 and wasn’t true in 2015 either — 5 out of 6 shoppers still start with a search, but most do not start on Google.

Amazon! Nearly twice as many shoppers start with a search on Amazon than on Google, Bing, Yahoo and all other search engines combined. 

The above graph from a study by BloomReach quantifies the huge attraction of search engines to start looking for a product. In 2016, 55% of consumers searched first on Amazon, compared to 28% on other search engines and 16% going directly to a retailer. Remarkably, 11% of consumers changed behavior in just one year — now going to Amazon first, but just one year ago had checked other search engines or gone directly to the retailer!


Innovation Drives Industry Change — and Consumer Behavior

This is a sobering reminder that online shopping is still relatively new and the basic habits of shoppers are still very fluid. As the industry continues to innovate, major shifts happen in just a few years. For retailers, this means that they need to be quick to recognize a trend, understand the underlying root cause, and adopt measures to be competitive and win.

Why? What is Amazon’s secret that has changed consumer online shopping behavior so dramatically?

I believe the answer is that Amazon has worked very hard to deliver an improved shopping experience.


How is the Amazon Shopping Experience Better?

As marketers, we always go back to the consumer. What is the consumer trying to accomplish and what is their experience in the process?

When I ask people about their online shopping experience with Google searches, one frequent experience continually pops up: When they click on a search ad, the destination landing page is usually not what they asked for, but the website’s main page or some very broad category such as Women’s Clothing. And the reaction is always the same — “I hate that.” Not at all the way the marketer or the shopper wants the onsite customer experience to begin.

Shoppers want to find what they they are looking for quickly. More clicks is bad. Even worse is clicking on an ad promising to have the item and then not being able to find it.

What is different about Amazon? Well, when you go to Amazon and do a search, the search results page is the set of items that Amazon thinks is most relevant. Amazon’s subsidiary, A9, has several hundred people who use AI, machine learning and other technologies to continually improve search for Amazon to improve the customer experience.


And Google?

What about Google? Google is absolutely investing heavily in these technologies for improving search. And their organic search results are a prime beneficiary, ensuring the relevancy of the organic SEO results. But for paid search, Google can only select the which ads/keywords compete in the auction. And, although they look at the destination landing page of the ads and use their analysis of its relevance as one of the components of the quality score, Google does not control the destination. The advertiser does. And most advertisers are not investing in ensuring that their shoppers always land on the most relevant page on their website for each of their many thousands of keywords, quickly adapting to changes in the website, items and inventory changes.

To compare, a search at Amazon uses advanced algorithms to find and display the most relevant products. Amazon controls the experience and the results from the study say they are doing a good job. In contrast, a search at Google uses advanced algorithms to find the most relevant search ads, but another click later, the shopper experience depends on the e-commerce retailer, not Google.


Technology for the E-Commerce Search Advertiser

I do know several major e-commerce retailers who are investing to solve this problem for their online shoppers, building advanced algorithms similar to Amazon and Google to find and display the best webpage for each search ad click.

Another option for e-commerce retailers is the LinkDirector product from Vioby. Using AI, machine learning, semantic understanding and other technologies, Vioby’s cloud service product is similar to what Amazon and Google are using, but available to the search advertiser. The algorithms understand your shopper and your catalog and website and, for each click, determine the destination landing page that is your most relevant webpage.

If you would like to explore how Vioby could help your search ad campaigns deliver a better customer experience, just let me know. Click here to learn more about our products.