Fashion and luxury brands need to start connecting the dots
The nature of the Internet is Darwinian: some forms of digital life evolve and prosper, others become extinct.
There are a plethora of examples: Search Engines such as Altavista or Ask.com which have been wiped off the face of the Earth by Google; closed Social Platforms such as MySpace and prehistoric browsers like Netscape. And let’s not forget devices from manufacturers such as Nokia and Blackberry, once at the forefront of the mobile web, before smartphones arrived and changed the game.
Of course, evolution never stops and revolution comes frequently. The bigger changes are often foreseeable long before they arrive; those who can interpret the signals and connect the dots are also able to adapt quickly and ride the new trends before others.
So, what are the signals that fashion and luxury brands should be spotting now, when it comes to traffic acquisition?
Let’s look at a few unrelated facts that, when read together, could give us an idea of the future:
The move from Search to Answer
When NET-A-PORTER was launched, it combined the objective-driven aspect of e-commerce with the exploration and inspiration people sought from browsing magazines. Our customers could do both in one location: look for exactly what they wanted or scroll through content and product to seek inspiration. Now customers expect an even deeper level of engagement, and that is answer-driven.
Today, Google is more of an Answer Engine than a Search Engine; it tries to fulfil users’ needs in the quickest possible way, increasingly by providing answers directly in the results pages. Consequently, the number of queries that don’t lead to clicks on websites is increasing, and the control that brands have on the information presented is decreasing, since they cannot change how Google assembles facts and content to create those answers.
This is part of the evolution mentioned before, and it happens not only because Google is continually innovating, but also because people expect deeper levels of engagement on the platform of their choice.
But new features on Google for brands will mean paying more and more attention to how results are presented to users, which sources data and facts are pulled from, and how to improve automated answers with owned content.
To traditional SEO brand will need to add On-SERP SEO: for many queries the goal will not be getting a click from Google’s results, but being chosen as the source of the answer directly provided to the user.
Mobile Traffic: Up | Organic Click Throughs: Down
Mobile traffic now accounts for more than 50% of total search yet Google’s organic Click-through-rate (CTR) is decreasing.
This is partially due to new advertising formats that are starting to occupy the space traditionally reserved for organic results, but also to the growing phenomenon of ‘no-click searches’: those queries where users don’t click to any websites since they can find the answer already on the Search Engine Result Pages.
Given the increase in mobile traffic and the way Search Engines present results on mobile, it is possible that organic positions will get even fewer clicks in the future. Websites that typically rank lower than the brand’s own websites — such as department stores, online retailers and affiliate publishers — will probably need to increase their pay-per-click presence which will have the net effect of increasing the cost-per-click for luxury fashion brands. Ultimately we can expect the cost of paid traffic to increase.
(Free) traffic from social media is declining
According to Hootsuite, the average organic reach on Facebook was just 5.6% in Q2 2019. And with the difficulties in generating traffic from Instagram — where links are allowed only in certain types of posts — getting visits from social media is becoming more and more challenging. As with advertising on search engines, we can imagine a situation where social media could also evolve into a mostly paid source of traffic. Brands will then need more advanced attribution models in place, to understand the real Return On Investment (ROI) of paid social and to correctly allocate budgets also on channels which typically have low conversion rates in a last-click attribution model.
The combined effect of declining ‘free’ search and social traffic could result in higher advertising spending just to maintain the same level of visits, particularly so in mature markets. Brands will need to keep a close eye on how the ROI of their campaigns deteriorates to understand how sustainable this strategy will be. In this scenario it would be vital to retain customers, create loyalty and make decisions based on metrics such as Customer Lifetime Value instead of a simple Cost Per Acquisition.
Mobile is a fragmented ecosystem
On Mobile devices, people spend most of their time ‘in-app’ rather than on the mobile web. This means that most of the touch points which exist for a brand to communicate with its customers are on third-party platforms.
Native apps could be a way to stay in contact with mobile users but still having ownership of the property: for a website, the connection breaks when the browser is closed; in contrast, an app is already installed and always close at hand.
Alongside this, brands will need to be present across multiple channels while at the same time serving unique content tailored for each platform. Marketing Orchestration will be the key to maintaining coherent communication in many different places.
As the Internet evolves and Mobile becomes its centre, brands will need to pay attention to a few important things:
- Own or control how automated information appears on Search Engines pages (On-SERP SEO)
- Optimize advertising spending, looking at Customer Lifetime Value instead of Cost per Acquisition in isolation
- Develop several touch points across owned (native app) or third-party platforms and orchestrate marketing across all of them
Here in the Online Flagship Stores division of YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP, we design and manage the e-commerce websites of over 30 luxury and fashion brands, helping them to always be at the forefront of an ever-changing digital landscape.