When Bas asked me if I wanted to join the State of Search team and have a regular blogging spot I jumped at the chance. It was a real honour to be asked but it left me with the difficult task of deciding what to write about for my opening post. I work for Experian which most people associate with the financial industry and credit checks, but at its heart, Experian is a big data company. It’s my job to bring some of that data to life and I like to do that by telling stories. So I thought for my first blog I would share a story about contact lenses.
Now contact lenses I realise is not the sexiest of topics to talk about, but in my experience it is often in the most unexpected places that you can find some fascinating nuggets which make for great stories. This particular story started with a request from a journalist writing a piece about the online optical market in the UK. In essence he wanted to know what was more popular: prescription glasses or contact lenses.
Using Experian Hitwise data we have access to 50 million unique search term variations every week being typed into search engines by a quarter of the UK Internet population – so this was a fairly easy request to process. Putting together the thousands of different ways that people search for prescription glasses and contact lenses into two portfolios I charted these over time to show that typically, prescription glasses are three times more popular online than contact lenses.
What surprised me when I saw the chart was that there were three very clearly defined peaks in the blue line which represented overall searches for contact lenses. Intuitively, you would expect that the demand for contact lenses would be fairly flat, it’s not a seasonal item like searching for a summer holiday, nor is it an impulse buy which could have resulted in random spikes in searches. Curious, I asked a few people around the office: “What month of the year do you think people search for contact lenses the most?” The most common replies were January (start of a new year, stock up on contact lenses) and June (a need for different contact lenses because of hayfever in the summer). Both of these were logical answers, and yet our data clearly showed spikes each year in October.
What was even more intriguing was that the October spikes weren’t just small seasonal variations, in some cases there was three or four times more volume of search clicks than in other months of the year. It was only when I interrogated the search data further that the reason for these search spikes became clear. October of course is Halloween and every year people want to dress up as vampires, zombies and ghouls – hence huge online interest in searches for vampire contact lenses, zombie contact lenses, scary contact lenses, blood red contact lenses and about 8,000 other variations of searches along these lines.
My second surprise came when I was looking at the websites receiving traffic from these Halloween related searches. I was expecting a high proportion to be going to fancy dress websites, and yet less than 3% of searches were going to fancy dress websites, the overwhelming majority of search clicks were going to optical specialist websites. This makes sense when you think about it, as people are (understandably) careful with what they put in their eyes, and are therefore more likely to go to a trusted source when buying contact lenses, even if it’s for a party event.
There were however, a number of major high street brands who were not receiving traffic from these Halloween contact lenses terms. This represents a huge opportunity for any business in the optical arena. If you are not stocking Halloween contact lenses in October, then you need to start doing so, because if you don’t, people will go elsewhere to buy them, and then you’ve lost a potential customer for repeat business. One thing that is certainly true about online shopping is people are lazy and will look for the path of least resistance. If they can find one shop which caters for their vampire contact lenses and one day Acuvue’s, you can bet they will shop their than go to two different stores.
So there you have it. Searches for contact lenses are seasonal and massively skewed by Halloween. It’s these counter-intuitive examples which make my job fun, but that also show the importance of data in market research and how this can be turned into something which is going to make you money.
I will be back next month with another story to share with you, but if you want to find out more about the kind of data and insight Experian can provide, you can visit the website follow us on Twitter @Hitwise_UK, or send me an email direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next month.