Understanding intent, not just queries, is critical to the success of e-commerce. It is all the more critical in informing the evolution of search experiences. After all, we are developing search engines for searchers, not for keywords strings.
Bing commissioned a market research from French institute Ifop to dig into the latest habits of e-shoppers: what are they buying? How are they buying? Since you may not be fluent in French, and yet still be interested in seeing the Froggies jump on your latest products, let me share some of the sometimes-surprising, takeaways from across the pond.
Portrait of the French e-shopper
E-shopping is now a well-anchored habit in France, but counter-intuitively the leading segment of the population in terms of frequent usage is not the web-native Millennials. The 35-49 segment tops the chart with 59% qualifying as regular online buyers (albeit closely followed by the 25-34 at 58%), nearly a quarter of them declaring to buy at least once a week online.
People’s motivations for shopping online can be clustered in three pillars:
- Practicality: whether living in a remote area or time-starved, the convenience of online shopping and home delivery addresses many needs;
- Affordability: the internet has connected bargain-hunting consumers to a competitive, worldwide marketplace where consumers benefit from the cost reductions inherited by running a virtual versus a brick-and-mortar business;
- Scarcity: shopping online gives you access to the long tail of obscure products that the mainstream retailers would not dare to stock.
The first two motivations explain largely why urban, professional households of 3+ people tend to consume the most diversified product set on the Internet. For them, e-commerce is a real alternative to traditional trade as it helps address the budgetary and time-pressure needs of a modern, urban family.
Mobile remains marginal at the time of purchase
Although Mediametrie confirmed at the end of February that the time spent to browse the web from mobile devices had overtaken PC, computers remain the device of choice for e-shoppers when it comes to the actual purchase: for 87% of the French, this is the device they use most to order from the Internet. Not surprising when you know that 98% say they prefer shopping from home. The announced boom of M-commerce is therefore not yet a reality in France.
If there is a favourable evolution towards mobile devices, especially amongst the 18-24 and at home (rather than on the go), only 5% of the e-shoppers mainly use their smartphone (8% for a Tablet) to buy online. This may be surprising when considering the relatively high adoption of e-commerce in France, and the vast propagation of smartphones, but three main barriers are consistently brought forward by the respondents:
- The risks/fears of personal data sharing on devices prone to be lost, stolen or even hacked (46% of respondents)
- The poor user experience of website which may slowly be better adapted for mobile browsing, but not purchasing (39%)
- The heavy reliance on classical payment methods which are rather unsuited to mobility. They may be fine with browsing the web on their phone from the Metro, but are not ready to pull out their credit card yet (35%)
Visual search makes the Frogs climb the e-commerce ladder
Shoppers may have a shortlist of e-commerce sites they refer to, but they heavily rely on search engines in the different stages of their purchase journey. Nearly half of them (47%) use this channel to make a purchase online. This local behaviour actually outperforms global trend since SimilarWeb reported that 40% of worldwide e-commerce traffic in January 2016 came from search engines, including both organic and paid search.
Brands and retailers can rest assured that a significant portion of shoppers are still using search engines before they buy. In fact, they use that channel throughout their journey: when looking for inspiration, evaluating options, researching products, building their consideration set or comparing the prices around.
But in a digital world that is increasingly image-led (see the rise of social networks like Instagram, SnapChat, etc.), these consumers rely increasingly on visual search results. More than a quarter of the respondents (26%) declared themselves particularly sensitive to visual elements, especially when their purchases relate to clothing, home equipment and household appliances (respectively 34%, 32% and 30%). Two main reasons explaining this craze:
- The desire to save time by viewing the product before going on site (38%)
- Or having a first glimpse of what is trending today (38%), a virtual window shopping made possible by exporting parts of their catalogue to the SERP.
Anchored in that consumer insight, Microsoft has released, in Open Beta, Bing Shopping in France, but also UK and Germany earlier this year. This new ad format allows brands to showcase their product in all their glory in the search results, with a picture and short description. And if we look at the impressive engagement and conversion that this visual advertising format triggered during its earlier tests in the US, consumer needs and advertiser ambitions seem more than ever to be in tune:
I will let you further explore the extend of that research through this infographic which also covers the e-commerce verticals where France shoppers are the most active in. Our shopping habits are evolving every day, adapting to the changing technology that nearly runs our lives. Staying on top of this research and the trends is critical for digital marketers who want to adapt at the pace of their shopper.