The way consumers shop has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. The latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index revealed shoppers in the UK spent a total of £5.2 billion online in April 2010, which is 19% more than in April 2009 and equivalent to £84 per person. This growth is impressive in contrast to the sluggish forecast for high-street consumer spending, where a recent report by the Ernst & Young ITEM Club sees consumer spending growing by just 0.6% this year and 1.3% in 2012, before rising to 2.2% in 2013.
Consumers Driving Diversity
For marketers, it is the change in the way consumers are searching for and engaging with brands and products online that is driving diversity throughout the affiliate channel. The advent of group buying and comparison shopping engines are two examples of this change. Moreover, the fact the internet has become a primary research tool for many, was confirmed in Econsultancy’s 2010 survey of UK consumers, which found that 34% had recently made a purchase (either online or offline) that required research. The survey found that 61% use search engines, 47% use information websites and 45% use online retail websites such as Amazon. It also confirmed that consumers were increasingly engaging with vouchers and discount offers, with 60% using these to make a purchase online.
These findings point to a longer-term shift towards online discounting, meaning marketers will need to ensure their products appear on sites that offer discounts and value for money. Recommendation sites are also important for merchants, with a recent survey by Havas Media Social and Lightspeed Research finding that 53% of consumers were more likely to look up a brand if a friend had recommended it.
The boom in user-generated content and the power of recommendations has led to the emergence of micro-affiliates. These are the sites that form the web’s ‘long-tail’ of niche search product categories. Historically, the micro-affiliate stream was perceived as uneconomical in terms of the administrative burden in managing a huge number of tiny commissions. The tide is turning though as merchants begin to appreciate their ‘collective’ influence in driving click-through activity.
Opportunities Still Exist For The Long-tail
Indeed, merchants now recognise long-tail search terms as a huge opportunity to drive traffic back to their sites, generate buzz and spread messages virally. For example, an affiliate focused on long-tail search terms – e.g. ‘digital camera’ + ‘brand’ + ‘colour’ + ‘key features’ – will most likely see lower traffic volumes but a higher rate of conversion, whereas those bidding on generic search terms – e.g. ‘digital cameras’ – will drive higher traffic volumes but have a lower rate of conversion.
In order to respond to the evolution in consumer shopping habits online, affiliates need to ensure they display accurate and up-to-date product information on their site. What’s more, merchants must make much richer product level information available to their affiliates if both parties are to benefit from the long tail of search terms that has evolved. Ultimately, rich product level information delivered via high-quality data feeds allows affiliates to create engaging consumer-facing content to drive conversion rates, while enabling consumers to find exactly what they are looking for.