Your customers read the web in Google’s language – be ready

Google Customer Experience

We’re used to thinking of Amazon as a best-practice-setting e-Commerce giant, but customers are learning and re-learning the language of the web on every site they visit – and one juggernaut is teaching them how to engage with the web in a big way.

Google doesn’t just rule search, we use Google products to manage our email, help us find where we’re going and store our documents.

Because customers are so exposed to Google products, Google has built users’ expectations for how the web works – so when they arrive on your site, potential customers expect to be spoken to in a language crafted by Google.

By speaking to customers in the language they expect, marketers can optimize customer experience to increase revenue and create happier customers.


Example 1: “I need to find something… where’s the search box?”

What Google did:

More than a decade ago, before Google reigned supreme over all other search engines, there was another option: Yahoo! Comparing the two site’s home pages from the year 2000 gives you a pretty clear understanding of their different strategies:

Google Vs Yahoo

Where Yahoo! prioritized categories – attempting to guess how users would group topics – Google allowed the user to drive their own experience by prioritizing search.

Building on that all-important search supremacy, Google changed the way we use email by prioritizing search and providing unlimited storage in Gmail. It followed a similar strategy with Google Drive, prioritizing search as a way to find documents rather than depending on remembering the path of folders. 

What users want as a result:

Users expect to navigate sites using search and filtering, not categories.

How to give the people what they want:

This means you can’t neglect your internal search. Make sure your site search looks at titles, tags and descriptions of products.

Additionally, track your search box (which you can do with Google Analytics!) and regularly look at what customers are searching for – these can serve as keywords to optimize your product descriptions.

 BONUS: Google now includes a search box in Google search results – meaning when customers search on Google and find your site, they have the option to search your site directly from the search engine results page. By adding a bit of code, you can redirect customers who use this sitelinks search to results on your own site.


Example 2: “I’ve been to this site before – where’s that product I considered?” 

What Google did:

Five years ago, Google rolled out personalized search – meaning your search results page is customized based on your previous searches.

Google later expanded personalized search to include results from Gmail and Google Drive, to make search results even more useful.

Then, last year, Google shifted to not providing what keywords were driving traffic to your site and increased emphasis on ‘semantic search,’ which considers searcher intent and context to create relevant, personal results.

What users want as a result:

Users expect sites to serve personalized, customized content that is uniquely relevant to their particular circumstances.

How to give the people what they want:

Take what you know about user behavior and serve different web experiences based on that data:

  1. Calculate shipping based on user location before they get to the shipping page
    A lack of transparency around shipping costs or confusing terms can lose sales – the earlier you can get this information to customers, the less likely they are to be dissuaded by a price hike at the end. Since the users’ location is available in Google Analytics, you can add estimates to their shopping cart before they enter their address.
  2. Change the homepage based on the number of times they’ve visited your site
    The first time a user comes to the site, they may just be browsing. They’ll land on a few product pages but won’t make a decision. The second or third time, they likely already know what they want.
    To building on this idea, prioritize featured products or seasonal offerings on first visit and then switch to search for their later visits, when they already have something in mind.
  3. Feature products they’ve considered on previous visits
    If a customer visits your site a few days after their first visit but has still not made a purchase, they might be looking for the product they left behind a few days ago. By featuring that product on the homepage, you’ll reduce friction and make it more likely that they buy.

 Customized experiences are not limited to the web – you can also create a personalized, relevant experience by including the user’s name in an email, sending an email to customers who have left items in their cart or emailing recommendations based on previous purchases.


While e-commerce sites shape users expectations of other e-commerce sites, it’s important to keep in mind that most of a user’s time online is spent talking to friends and family or looking for interesting content. The conventions of those platforms shape the way potential customers view the web and what they expect from your site – so speak to them in their own language.

Black Friday is dead – long live delightful customer experiences

Holiday Shopping Day Sales

Traditionally, Black Friday is the start of the holiday shopping season – a landmark to jump start the busiest buying time of the year. But with more screens and devices, increased consumer expectations and more competition between retailers driving earlier and earlier sales, retailers should call time of death on this out-of-date tradition.

This year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that overall traffic for Black Friday was down 3.6 percent from last year’s traffic. While comScore data (also shown above) shows online sales are up, that in-store traffic slump amounts to nearly $7 billion less spent over the holiday shopping weekend this year versus last year.

Yet despite this slump, NRF projected a total 4.1 percent growth in overall holiday shopping this year. Taken together, these facts suggest that holiday shopping isn’t slowing down, but rather shifting away from traditional holiday door-busters to instead reward retailers with more well-rounded plans.


Retailers are taking the punch out of Black Friday

Retail deals site DealNews reported that Thanksgiving day had 30 percent more Editor’s Choice deals (sales that offered all-time price lows or best-of-the-year discount) than Black Friday for the second year in a row. Similarly, Adobe reported that online shopping on Thanksgiving (or ‘Grey Thursday’) instead of Black Friday yielded average savings of 24 percent.

By offering bigger discounts at earlier times, retailers are competing to get to holiday budgets before each other and, as a result, Black Friday is less important.

Google saw this reflected in search trends as well – with “a shift away from “tentpole” events such as Black Friday” but earlier searches for terms around Black Friday associated with deals:

Black Friday Searches - Google


Via Google.

This year, deals started rolling out as early as the first Saturday after Halloween – now dubbed “Orange Saturday” – marking a potential new start of the season. Store traffic and revenue are projected to steadily continue and spike on Super Saturday – the last Saturday before Christmas.


Consumers are moving out of stores, off of devices and into multi-screen shopping experiences

As Black Friday falls by the wayside, so does its more tech-savvy iteration Cyber Monday – but not because users are moving offline or off-devices.

First written about in 2005, Cyber Monday started when workers returned to offices on the Monday after Thanksgiving and continued shopping while taking advantage of their business’s better Internet connectivity. Since 70 percent of Americans now have high-speed Internet at home, the factors that led to Cyber Monday are no longer relevant and shoppers are behaving differently.

Tracking online sales on holiday shopping days, IBM found that online traffic on Cyber Monday is highest between 5:30 and 8 p.m., meaning after work hours.



Via IBM.

In the same report, IBM also found that 41.2 percent of all online traffic was mobile, up 30.1 percent over 2013, amounted to 22 percent of total Cyber Monday online sales, also an increase. This is consistent with estimates that between 30 and 50 percent of e-commerce traffic comes from a mobile device.

But more than just shopping and exploring products on devices, shoppers are moving between mobile, web and in-store in seamless but meaningful ways. Research from Google in 2012 found that 90 percent of shoppers moved from one device to another during a purchase process. Today, nearly 50 percent of 25–34-year-olds use their phone to shop online while standing in line at a store.

Consumers already view purchasing as a multi-screen experience, which makes dedicated deal days for different purchase behaviors, like online versus in store, irrelevant.


Retailers can build on success and remix the parts of Black Friday that work

While Black Friday as we knew it may be on the decline, the importance of the holiday shopping season for commerce is here to stay. To better drive sales in the future, retailers can build on what works with current shopping holidays but adjust to emerging shopping behaviors.


Instead of broad trends, target segments based on unique behaviors

Black Friday and Cyber Monday were built on the knowledge that consumers need holiday gifts, employers have high-speed internet, etc. Today’s marketers have the luxury to tap into big data to drive targeted, personalized holiday offers rather than directing marketing initiatives based on broad-sweeping trends.

Instead of thinking about when a customer might go online versus in-store, think about the different jobs that different devices fill in the sales process. For example, customers turn to cell phones to improve in-store shopping (by finding the store or storing a coupon) once they’ve decided on a purchase. Tablets, on the other hand, fill the job of research ahead of a purchase decision:

Mobile Shopping Activity from Nielson

Via Nielson.

Customers are turning to mobile to simplify their purchase process more and more – 30 percent of revenue on Black Friday came from mobile, a nearly 50 percent jump over last year. For Cyber Monday, mobile held 41 percent share of traffic.

Customers are turning to mobile devices to fill specific niche roles within the sales process, and by considering how these jobs fit into the path to purchase, marketers can improve the customer experience and drive more sales.

Email traffic has largely shifted to mobile, so device usage should also be a consideration for the tried-and-true email offer. Email continues to do the job of informing customers about deals and offers, but marketers may be missing out on additional revenue by not optimizing what offer they send when to the device customers are accessing at that time of day:

eMarketer research on email timingVia eMarketer.

Taken together, marketers can consider these shopping and email trends to send relevant offers at particular times of day, rather than general offers on certain days of year.

Specifically, customers may find mobile-optimized email offer with coupons useful during commute times while ‘gift-guide’ type emails may work better during work hours or later in the evening, when they’re viewing on their desktop or tablet.


Give customers incentives, but don’t limit yourself to discounts

As retailers battle each other to send out the biggest discount the earliest – often not publicizing all of their deals so they can undercut competitors at the last minute – they are limiting themselves to competing only on price. Deals increase the motivation for shopping, but competing on price ignores what’s unique about a brand.

Apple, for example, offered customers an extra gift card rather than slashing prices, giving a higher value product rather than devaluing their existing product. Since Apple customers are buying into a high-performance brand, a deal that increases value makes more sense.

Outside of monetary value, retailers can add value in the form of utility – helping customers more easily find the product they’re looking for, discover related products or even save on bundled products. By analysing what different customers buy and even looking at what products customers buy together, retailers can send more relevant offers rather than blindly hoping a lower price will be relevant.

At the same time, non-profits and charities are leveraging Giving Tuesday, their own holiday day, to get donors to spend more by tying it into a bigger, united movement on the day. Rather than offering gifts, which can cheapen the giving process in the same way discounts cheapen goods, they are using the day as a rallying cry, proving the added value of unity.


Conclusion: win the holiday shopping season by knowing your customer

Ultimately, Black Friday is dwindling because it has stopped being a useful tool for customers and retailers alike. By leveraging data to drive holiday marketing initiatives, retailers can build new and relevant holiday shopping experiences.

Today, you’ll find everything from wine to cars on sale on Black Friday, but luxury retailers treat the day a bit differently.  Where most big box and low-end retailers open on Thanksgiving and offer a plethora of dirt-cheap deals, luxury retailers will open at a reasonable hour and offer a sprinkling of deals.

Luxury retailers are tailoring the holiday to their customers, and more retailers can adopt the same practice.  One game company even got customers to spend “$5 more” on Black Friday by knowing their customer.

With the right data, marketers can send relevant offers to customers and turn the holiday season from an onslaught of cheap deals to a season of helpful gift guides and meaningful purchases.

Background photo for featured image from Alan Carter via Flickr Creative Commons.