Retailers know better than anyone else that all products have their seasons and fashion retailers know best of all. Their expertise filters down into all aspects of the clothing and apparel industry from merchandising to marketing, influencing when to change stock in stores to when to launch an advertising campaign.
Stylists and merchandisers are literally seasons ahead of everyone else and it’s their instincts for the next big thing that we all invest in. Every time we buy an item of clothing we’re voting with our feet and our wallets and endorsing their knack for predicting the future or setting the trend.
All that logistical data is fed back into the marketing model which will form a top down market analysis to predict spending trends for the following year.
However, what has continually eluded even the most data centric retailers are knowing exactly when customers will mobilise, en masse, for that particular season. The impact of this is that retailers consistently under deliver at peak shopping times and whilst they still make billions, enterprise PPC analysts have often claimed that even more could have been made.
Ultimately, their analyses show that the line between a good season and bad one, is just a gamble from a paid search perspective. Which is a theme we have tackled here before on Adthena in our coverage of the World Cup. The best PPC managers take risks at the right time.
Luckily for high street marketers, nowadays, with the ability to find whatever we want in a click or a swipe, search data has become a new predictor of shopping seasonality and that means PPC managers can improve their odds.
Forecasting Trends: Top Down Vs Bottom Up Analysis
Retailers should love paid search advertising because of all this new customer demand data to feed into their gigantic logistical operations. And in fact they do. A recent report from Shop.org, in association with Forrester Research found that 85% of the 81 retailers surveyed said PPC was the most important marketing channel bar none and that they have increased their ad spend in the last 12 months.
Yet, with all this data, what continues to take PPC managers by surprise is exactly how early demand for seasonal products can start.
Early reports into online shopping trends from PPC bid management platforms such as Kenshoo and Efficient Frontier, still apply today. Black Friday sales show no sign of slowing and bargain hunters are out in force earlier every year and spending more online on the same weekend. According to Search Engine Watch, comScore data shows that each day of the US Thanksgiving weekend of 2013 saw a 15 to 34 percent growth in online sales revenue – making Cyber Monday “the heaviest online spending day in history.”
As mentioned earlier, this is partly due to a top down style of analysis that looks at general trend data and plans budgets at scale. However, a bottom up analysis, which takes into lots of smaller subsets of data could be more profitable for PPC marketers. In this article which explains the difference between the two approaches, Inc Magazine says that bottom up analyses often tend to be more accurate.
So to give a sense of the differences between a top down and bottom up analysis could yield a PPC manager, lets jump into Adthena’s PPC data and dive deeper into a summer product category for the UK retail vertical – bikinis! See what I did there?
For obvious reasons, one would expect search volume for Bikinis to peak summer. They are summer apparel after all. However, would you expect demand for bikinis at the end of January to be equal to demand at the end of August? The graph below shows what common sense dictates – that demand for bikinis will be at its lowest in Autumn/Fall – because summer has ended. However, search traffic for bikinis in the dead of winter might seem unseasonably high showing just how many of us flock south in the winter – or at least think about it.
And that aspirational intent alone, the notion of just wearing a bikini in the future, may even be translating into these search data graphs too. The increasing search traffic for ‘bikinis’ at the end of winter may anticipate demand for bikini sales at the turn of spring.
At the very least it shows that consumer information needs are influenced by retailers and the wider fashion industry as ‘bikini sales’ related keywords see two peaks in the year. Both of which happen to coincide with the clearance of previous spring/summer collection items and introducing new ones.
Fortunately, search engine marketing managers can test the profitability of unseasonal demand as pay per click campaigns are relatively discreet. You can also be safe in the knowledge that anyone who actually sees the ad, probably already wants the product!
Topic Momentum and Mutation
Search data, from query to clickthrough, is one of the clearest signals of interest and purchase intent a customer can offer any business. Regardless of whether a conversion is closed, through PPC data marketers know at the very least that there is a market for their product. This is the most essential bottom up analysis one can do, but you would be astonished at how often this is an afterthought for many businesses.
In paid search marketing circles, the concept that PPC queries, impressions and clicks indicate a high degree of consumer intent is a topic as hot as the sand under your feet in the noon day sun… that is to say, a very hot topic.
Now there are two distinct signals of intention in search data. The first is spikes in search volume or clicks for a particular query, let’s call it ‘topic momentum’ and the second is the number of different related queries for the same topic, where new words and phrases are introduced into the market to describe the same thing. Let’s call that ‘topic mutation.’
Clicking to Clipping
Looking at the impressions in the bikini data above we can see that consumer demand for ‘bikini trimmers’ increases to 5,000 searches in November. It might seem like a trend to watch in November, but a month later, consumer purchase intent is very clearly signaled with rapidly accelerating click data as shown in the graph below. In just 5 weeks there is a 385% increase in clicks to both paid and natural listings on bikini trimmer search results pages.
That this spike in searches for bikini trimmers coincides with Christmas Holidays and New Year might at first seem to explain demand for the product. From the graph, you may initially wonder, is it the perfect christmas gift? Arguably no – the peak of the trend is too late for the gift shopping cycle which suggests women are buying them for themselves. Based on topic momentum, this really seems to be an anomaly. The product that is trending in the wrong season.
The second signal of topic mutation could confirm whether this is a trend. A wide variety of keywords for the same topic would indicate that there is general interest in the product category. Similarly a diversity of query modifiers, from product serial numbers and brand name manufacturers would confirm a broad base of market intention.
In the Adthena data below we can see that Amazon is garnering the greatest share of clicks from a wider variety of terms – including mentions of brands such as Remington and Panasonic in their ads.
Bikinilytics: Confirming Seasonal Trends Using Product Search Data
So to conclude, a top down analysis might actually lead retail marketers to under spend on PPC at the times when they stand to be most profitable; whereas a bottom up analysis looks to be a promising way to not only make your PPC spending more efficient over the year, but also prepare you to take the right risk at the right time.
From the data we’ve looked at, we can definitely see fluctuations that seem to indicate some relevant changes in the market, yet we can only guess as to what they are. For example, we still have not concluded as to why demand for bikini trimmers spikes in the winter – and I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to hazard your own guess in the comments.
Nonetheless, what we can say is that the search data provides two extremely strong indicators of customer intent that can be used to plot marketing opportunities and even plan merchandising – and that is half the battle of efficient budget management in any retail advertising campaign.