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Survey: Amazon is burying the competition in search

Join Guidance SVP E-commerce & Omni-Channel Strategy, Brian Beck, and BloomReach Head of Marketing and Partnerships, Joelle Kaufman for a webinar this Thursday, October 15 at 10a PT/1p ET/1700 GMT to dig deeper into the findings and learn what opportunities there are for online retailers. Register here.

For those of you waiting for further proof that Amazon is eating the world of e-commerce, your day has come.

A rapidly growing number of consumers now go directly to Amazon when they are shopping for products online, according to a Survata study commissioned by BloomReach and released today. The portion of straight-to-Amazon shoppers, 44 percent, outstrips the percentage who turn to search engines (34 percent) and significantly eclipses the portion who rely on specific retailers’ sites (21 percent).

Amazon’s piece of the online shopping pie is impressive, but more impressive is the growth in the share of e-commerce search that the Seattle behemoth commands. Just three years ago, Forrester Research put the percentage of shoppers who went directly to Amazon when hunting for products online at 30 percent.

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The shifts in consumer behavior puts individual retailers in the uncomfortable position of watching more and more of their customers digitally drive by their shops and head straight for the Everything Store. And in a sense, retailers are also suffering at the hands of search engines — such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing — which have trained legions of Web users to expect instant and extremely relevant results and recommendations for every search they type into a search box.

Key takeaways

  • 44 percent of consumers start product searches on Amazon, far more than on search engines like Google or on retail sites.
  • 75 percent of consumers said Amazon does the best job of personalizing the shopping experience.
  • 44 percent of digital retailers see Amazon as their primary threat.

By a 2-to-1 margin, respondents to Survata’s survey said they don’t understand why their favorite retailers don’t offer the same kind of dead-on, personalized experience that the big search engines do.

And similar to findings in the United Kingdom a year ago, an overwhelming number of consumers said nobody does personalization better than Amazon. In fact, 75 percent of U.S. consumers polled by Survata said Amazon knew them best, while only 9 percent said Walmart.com was the best at personalization and 8 percent picked eBay.  

While the numbers are dramatic, the overall point isn’t likely to come as a surprise to retailers. BloomReach’s study went beyond examining consumers’ attitudes and also included a self-assessment of retailers themselves. In fact, 86 percent of the 500 digital retailers surveyed said they feared that personalization technology from the top search engines was heavily influencing consumer expectations.

Retailers see Amazon as their biggest threat

And the retailers are well aware that Amazon is where consumers are turning for the sort of personalized experience they want. Forty-four percent of retailers said Amazon is their main threat. Only 21 percent thought eBay was and 20 percent said a direct retail competitor represented their biggest worry.

And, perhaps as a sign that retailers fear they are not stacking up, the surveyed retailers ranked personalization as their No.1 priority for the coming year-and-a-half. (A recent batch of research from the UK also reflected a lack of confidence among retailers when it comes to personalization.) Just how they’re going to attack the priority should prove interesting, because it seems they can’t even agree on what personalization actually is.

BloomReach found that 38 percent of retailers believe that personalization is achieved by serving consumer personas. A nearly equal number, 37 percent, said personalization was all about delivering a unique experience to an individual consumer. And 24 percent thought personalization could be achieved by appealing to broad segments of the population or to different demographics.

Furthermore, it isn’t clear that retailers actually understand what consumers want when they talk about personalization. Both groups agreed that the whole point of personalization was to provide convenience and relevance. But the majority of consumers said the site search box provided the most value when it came to personalization. Marketers, however, said that features like faceted search and filters were the most valuable aspects.

Personalization is in the eye of the beholder

And even there, retailers were far from unanimous. When picking the best personalization value, marketers were almost evenly split among search box, navigation, suggested and related products and promoted products.

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The BloomReach study, which surveyed 2,000 consumers, also uncovered a gap between retailers and their customers in their thinking about smartphones’ role in shopping excursions. Nearly half of consumers, 47 percent, said the main role for smartphones was researching product and prices; and half of those said they specifically used their phones for “showrooming,” or digitally comparing prices while in a store. Studies, including those from Deloitte Digital, have shown that mobile has a big multiplier effect when it comes to sales on other channels. And there is ample evidence that consumers would like to be recognized as they move from device to device.

Yet, marketers did not see the importance in connecting and personalizing mobile in conjunction with the other devices consumers use in a single shopping excursion.

Consumers shop with their phones, buy with their desktops

In fact, at a time when mobile search traffic is outpacing desktop traffic, 81 percent of consumer said they prefered to make actual purchases on their desktop computers, an indication that viewing shopping as a seamless experience is a key to success.

Taken together, BloomReach’s study presents an alarming picture to digital retailers that aren’t named Amazon. But they also point to a path forward; a path paved with creating a relevant, personalized and pleasant experience for shoppers, across all their devices and in brick and mortar stores.

In some ways it seems a daunting task for retailers. But in many other ways, the work ahead epitomizes the reasons many got in the retail game in the first place.

Photo of keyboard by GotCredit and joke shop by Disco-Dan published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.