Department stores depend upon winning healthy revenues during the holiday period, and increasingly search is becoming crucial to retail operations. How visible are the major U.S. department stores and how can they ensure they leverage their search presence to ensure healthy revenues?
During the 2014 holiday period, “38.5 percent of online transactions originated in a search query (either free or paid) [and] organic (free) search drove 21 percent of orders,” according to Custora.
Search is not just about driving purchases at the point of transaction. The channel is intricately involved throughout consumer purchase cycles; online experiences are driven by multiple devices, mobile, and “always-on” readiness and connectivity, making search the gateway to instant consumer queries.
Online purchase journeys revolve around search. Customers turn to organic search at various moments. A key challenge for retailers is to win these specific moments.
Understanding intent as consumers make search queries, and developing the right content to meet consumers at those moments, is critical to driving holiday revenues.
The importance of search will be a crucial marketing channel for U.S. department store retailers, which typically depend on bumper holiday shopping revenues.
With top retailers such as Macy’s and Kohl’s reportedly struggling to attract consumers just ahead of the key winter retail season, the ability to convert customers via search will be crucial. Retailers must ensure they have high visibility and a strong brand presence in search.
How Visible Are Large U.S. Department Stores Online?
Using data from Linkdex, Momentology’s sponsor, we ranked the visibility of the major U.S. department stores based on the number of SERP positions and ranking pages. The higher the overall visibility of a brand, the more likely that consumers are to discover and engage with brands as they consider and evaluate their purchases when using search engines.
U.S. department store visibility:
(Data from Sept 23; powered by Linkdex)
- Sears has a large lead in the number of winning SERP positions (1.93 million) and ranking pages (513,000).
- Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom are closely matched in terms of online visibility, in second, third, and fourth place, respectively.
- Behind Sears, Nordstrom has the second highest number of ranking pages, showing that they perform well in their ratio of winning SERP positions to ranking pages (813,000 / 123,000).
- In contrast, JCPenney has a lower proportion of winning SERP positions in comparison to ranking pages (628,000 / 58,600).
3 Key Takeaways
1. Understand & Respond To Consumer Intent
What really sets Sears apart is their understanding and awareness of consumer intent, informed by a thorough command of the organic search channel. The retailer has responded to what consumers are searching for, and have developed content that responds to these needs, placing their brand well in consumer minds as they move through their purchase cycles.
For example, the brand is creating digital content for specific niches to respond to consumer needs. FitStudio for example, a health and fitness resource and rewards program, was a “perfect solution for Sears to provide – free of charge – expert advice from fitness professionals and nutritionists,” Julia Fitzgerald, Sears’ chief digital officer, fitness, sports goods and toys, told Forbes.
FitStudio went beyond superficial content created for the benefits of rankings, and instead zoned in on what these consumers were really looking for, according to Fitzgerald:
“We realized that when shoppers come to Sears looking for a piece of fitness equipment, what they really are looking for is a 15 pounds lighter, fitter, or healthier version of themselves. And while the equipment is often a key component to their goal, they also need information and motivation to keep on track with a healthier lifestyle.”
FitStudio is a content resource, but uniquely also offers users rewards, which they earn by connecting digital fitness devices to FitStudio, which can then be redeemed at Sears (or affiliated brand Kmart).
While FitStudio is one notable example of the kind of content that Sears provides, the brand also provides consumers with sustained value across a number of queries, focusing in on intent, and as a result nurture prolonged engagement with their audience.
2. Create Landing Pages For Multiple Consumer Moments
Nordstrom also has a large number of SERP positions, which is served by strong ranking pages.
Looking at Nordstrom related search results reveals that one of the retailer’s strengths is in their highly efficient landing pages. Specifically, it shows how Nordstrom win a large number of unique keyphrases and channel these to their dedicated landing pages.
A search for “swimsuits”, “bathing suits”, or “bikini bathing suits” (although these examples aren’t likely related to holiday shopping) returns the same dedicated Nordstrom landing page.
Nordstrom’s ranking category pages, for a number of products, cater for a range user search queries. “Bikini bathing suits” for instance, is a more specific search query suggesting a slightly more developed moment in the purchase cycle, however it is still served by content on the same category landing page.
Using Linkdex’s Visibility tool to look at Nordstrom’s swimsuit landing page, and filtering for typical “consideration phase” modifiers (e.g., “best”, “for”) reveals how the landing page caters to multiple moments of the purchase journey.
In this sense, Nordstrom has built their site to not only capture similar search queries, but different moments of the consumer purchase cycle.
3. Ensure A Complete, Cohesive User Experience
Macy’s and Kohl’s are the leading department stores in the U.S. by revenue, according to a 2014 study by Statista. While both of these retailers perform well, Sears’ online visibility illustrates the potential of the SEO channel when a retailer commits to an integrated digital strategy based on a thorough understanding of their audience.
The difference between retailers that perform well, and those that perform exceptionally, is in creating excellent user experiences throughout consumer purchase journeys – from the moment they encounter your brand, to checkout. This could mean creating informative digital properties that reward and educate such as Sears’ FitStudio, not just on individual domains, but across a user’s entire online experience.
Ultimately, great content raises the profile of a brand, which in turn leads to better online visibility.
Final Thoughts: Omnichannel & Offline Integration
Earlier this year, Momentology reported on how Nordstrom uses technology to align customer experience goals. The retailer’s Instagram, for example, allows users to connect directly to equivalent on-site products. It’s no wonder that a report by L2, a business intelligence and advisory firm, placed Nordstrom at number one in a list of “digitally savvy retailers” (for which only Macy’s and Sears also achieved a top score).
The same report emphasized how omnichannel, and online/offline integration and would be a key focus for department store retailers in the foreseeable future, stating: “in an effort to remain relevant and to capitalize on their physical presence, Department Stores are merging clicks and bricks. The largest concentration of investments is in bridging online and offline experiences.”
Organic search will no doubt be a crucial channel for retailers during the upcoming holiday shopping season. One of the most effective ways for retailers to leverage gains in online visibility is to provide an integrated customer-centric experience.
How will you win over consumers at key moments throughout the upcoming holiday season?