Watch our video interview with KPMG's UK head of retail, Paul Martin, to discuss 2020 retail trends, forecast of what's to come in 2021, consumer buying behaviours and impact to the leadership agenda.
Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail at KPMG
The trends from our experts show that it's hugely important to adapt to the fast-changing human behaviours / needs. Economic trends have been the driving force behind online search demand and sales. Brands which have benefited the most are those that have seen an increased demand (convience, foods, fitness). Whereas the non-essential items are as expected seeing decreases. It's encouraging to see if the brand has offline stores, ecommerce is almost certainly replacing some of the drop-off - and as Julian (from John Lewis) highlighted, you also need to be aware of stock levels so that you are promoting the products that customers can purchase.
The streetwear industry has been flourishing during this hard time and as a fully online business, our performance has been surprisingly resilient and better yet, up year or year.
2019 was a fairly good year overall even with the various algorithms over the year. We were fairly nervous going into 2020 as with any year having to outperform the previous. But we had a plan (at the time) with what we thought would put us in a position that would see us through. How wrong we were! By April our focus had completely changed and our planned work pretty much went out the window. Performance has been strong, but with the sheer volume of demand for products has made keeping everything in stock near impossible. Our position within the marketplace has been strong, but I think as we see people return to a fairly normal state then the demand online will plateau. This is where we need to revisit our pre covid strategy plus our current focuses and the change in demand will come together. We can't rely on the upturn in online demand from covid to see us through.
The focus has changed from looking to improve all of our categories ranking positions, to being more focused on the ones where demand is for our customers. For e.g. we saw essential items for kids and baby seeing massive growth along with home categories, due to people refreshing their homes and gardens during lockdown. With the restrictions on going abroad, which has affected many of our customers’ summer holidays, we have seen this reflected in the fact that some categories such as holiday shop and luggage have seen a decline in search volume. We are seeing this market shift in Google Trends and our own GSC data also, so it’s making sure that when we see an increase, that we tactically change our focus.
Being a part of the interiors world and as an e-commerce company that is online only, we have seen more traffic and purchases even though we sell high end designer products.
There is no denying the fact that Covid-19 has had a big impact on online businesses. But Coronavirus is affecting different businesses in a different way. From the industries that are affected badly, the travel sector is probably affected the most. Many airlines have folded or declared bankruptcy due to coronavirus. If your company is going out of business, you probably don't care much about SEO. But if your company is somehow surviving my quick advice would be "cut less during the crisis and you’ll gain more in better times". Prepare your business for the bounce-back episode of 2020: we know that the coronavirus will fade away - like in China - and SEO is a long-term game anyway so what you do today will affect your SEO in 2-3 months from now. Stopping or delaying your SEO campaigns during the pandemic could seriously affect your SEO visibility and sales in two months from now when the Covid-19 virus becomes a distant memory.
The absolute bottom I've seen for the online fashion industry was -90% YoY, that was in march.
We’re lucky to be in a very resilient industry and we’ve actually seen organic performance improve, along with all channels. With more people working from home and spending time with their dogs, there was an increase in general interest for dog activity monitors and so we saw increased traffic and sales. We also benefited from the May 2020 core update, putting us ahead of our competitors for many key terms and picking up loads of long tail rankings.
Substantial drop in visits at the beginning of the crisis, first in EU and - a month later - in US and ROW. Traffic and revenues bounced back big time after a couple of months, as ecommerce became suddenly mainstream and the only way to buy products in certain occasions
Impact on organic performance vs 2019 has shown a very positive development, mostly motivated by the steep increase in searches for our brand. At the same time, some other non-brand on-page projects that were launched in previous months to Covid-19, have also seen a strong performance.
Our experts views are mixed, but the general trend is that organic search is a large driver of online revenue, and as such is being treated seriously at the board level. Especially in cases where above the line advertising and paid search budgets are being reduced, it's more important than ever to double down on where customer sales are coming from.
Organic has been part of the bread and butter channel in The Sole Supplier even before I joined. This has not changed and is increasingly more important as we have big plans throughout the year.
Interesting question, SEO has always been viewed as an important channel and as with nearly every retailer (I've worked with or in house) an over reliance on paid channels due to the increasing lack of organic results within Google Search. It's more a case of that all online channels are seeing more business interest as we can't rely on stores to perform as they previously did.
Yes, there has been so much more exposure within ECOM, Marketing and especially the Board due to the daily updates that they receive on performance and what’s driving it. As SEO is already the largest channel and since all paid media was turned off and no ATL, SEO was driving the bulk of the traffic and revenue to the business, highlighting the importance of the channel.
It hasn’t changed the importance of Organic as the company always valued organic, since it’s online only.
There is no denying that the Coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to rethink not just their SEO strategies, but everything related to Digital Marketing. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the need not just to be present online but to completely transform the way we do business and interact with our customers. In short, Covid-19 has supercharged Digital Transformation across the globe.
For example, Nike is streaming live workout classes on YouTube. They also made their premium workout streaming service free for those in lockdown and as a result, they welcomed more than one million new users to its Running Club.
In my book, I call this Digital Transformation: adapting and improving your digital presence in order to deliver real solutions that are useful to people.
When it comes to SEO (and to answer your question) I see that since the Coronavirus outbreak, internet usage has surged by at least 50% to 70%. What that means is that a brand will be visible to a higher number of people, provided that this brand employs the right digital marketing strategy.
The organic marketing channel was subjected to cuts just like the rest of the marketing channels. It's not been dismissed as a channel, but it also hasn't received extra attention following quick wins.
PitPat hadn’t really done much in terms of SEO before March when I joined – the very basics that meant they ranked for their key terms and brand. Now, organic search is increasingly being appreciated as a core channel – although still secondary to some paid channels including paid search – and the business has recognised the long term value of investing in organic search and content. We were already a highly digital company, and Covid-19 has only strengthened that stance, giving us freedom to test new digital strategies and channels to broaden our brand and category awareness as well as driving incremental sales – something organic search does well!
Everything ecommerce accelerated in the last few months, but focus on organic search was high already, so I didn’t notice substantial differences.
I don't think so. There has been in previous months a clear direction to increase resources towards SEO, but not because of Covid-19 channel performance.
To a certain extent, the responses paint a picture of business as usual. There's no real kneejerk reactions/panicking here, but there is a focus on how you can adapt to the changing demand trends - especially with on-site content to help customers at each stage of the journey. Local SEO for those with stores is hugely important to, updating opening hours and directing to online so that you can still capture the sale.
I strongly believe in a holistic approach to SEO at all times, so I would always award all the elements you mentioned (technical SEO, on-page content strategy/production, digital PR) as equally important. What slightly changed is the content we serve based on our observation of our customer base as well as by speaking with them.
Excitingly, we are just about to release our first ever digital PR campaign in August, with several onsite projects and development tickets going live, along with further investment into onsite content strategy and production. It is fantastic to have the support for this investment in the channel, including additional agency support.
Developing content is and has been a focus ever since we migrated the inspirational area last year. This isn’t changing but the content itself will no doubt cater to the new post-covid behaviour and our presumptions on the new lifestyle, for example we can assume that more people will be working from home and therefore will need more home office advice.
Currently, my priority is improving the local SEO of my customers. Covid-19 (lockdown) is forcing people to shop within their neighbourhood. Also, I see a trend on Social Media where consumers (at least here in the UK) want to shop locally and a desire to support local businesses during the crisis.
Google was very quick to respond to this trend by allowing businesses to add a range of attributes allowing business profiles to inform their clients about takeaways, deliveries, no-contact deliveries or kerbside pickups that are available.
Technical SEO & on-page content strategy/production mostly - these were always the main pillars of my SEO strategy. Post covid I'm hoping to get more resources to scale these even more. Digital PR is in my wish list, not a 1st priority at the moment due to its indirect impact on the bottom line & challenges working with agencies vs the direct impact of technical SEO.
We will continue with our content strategy, though this will slow down now that we are building a library of high quality content. We are embarking on a multi-facetted digital PR strategy, covering everything from gifting campaigns to big-hitting PR, and testing to see which has the most impact on awareness and search rankings.
Whilst previously print coverage would have been an equal target for us, this has become far less important as a result of Covid-19 and general trends towards digital over print consumption.
Keep doing technical SEO, focusing mostly on structured data. Advocating the cause of how-to video produced with a media budget.
I keep planning to focus on new on-page content opportunities, influenced by customer needs, that have arisen due to the current situation. Topics like food delivery and the messaging between our brand and customers/prospects is even more important now.
The common theme shows that the ever-changing search demand is the biggest factor to key up-to-speed with. You need to be agile to adapt to the trends, whilst also ensuring you're focus on the areas which have higher levels of stock available.
SEO, in certain aspects, is a long game. Especially during hard times like now where budgets are down, it is often viewed as lower priority vs paid marketing that pays off immediately. Whilst we know the significant bottom line impact in the longer term, leaders often need to make very hard decisions to protect their businesses in the immediate term.
I think one of the biggest SEO challenges that retailers face is to ensure their sites are as much optimized as possible given the increased demand that online channels are experiencing since the pandemic hit. Retailers specially need to cope with increased volumes of traffic and orders, meaning that technical SEO is more important than ever. On top of that, managing SEO teams remotely poses another challenge that in some instances adds complexity to ways of working and puts more pressure on agencies and in-house marketers.
EOI would say the biggest challenge not just for SEO but for businesses as a whole, is stock management. Managing stock that is especially seasonal or with stock that’s doing phenomenally well - how do you get that product back in so the most popular sections don’t look empty? I feel that this whole pandemic has highlighted the importance of online and SEO and especially with a lot of ATL and paid media turned off for some businesses.
Hiring talent will be even tougher going forwards. Due to the pandemic bringing redundancies and furlough, teams have had to do more work with less people. I think we’ll have to fight for help in the coming years, and not just if you’re in-house, but also agency side.
COVID-19 has altered almost every segment of life - from shopping habits to business meetings, travel and the way we interact with our customers. Due to social distancing concerns, more people are being forced to turn to online shopping for products they previously would have purchased in-store.
In theory, online retailers - small and big - stand to make the most from the switch of consumer behaviour to online shopping. But what I see in the real world is not that straightforward. Yes, I do see more people browsing online but at the same time, I see lower conversions (window shopping). Lower conversion rate makes it very difficult to justify investing in SEO.
From an SEO point of view, lower conversion rates make it very difficult to secure a budget to improve technical SEO and publish content.
But as I said earlier now is the time to double on your SEO activities. When you think about it during hard times content is your most important marketing asset. As people are spending more time online due to lockdown, they are more likely to research topics and consume content that's of interest to them.
So, by publishing content now a company is not only more likely to increase their SEO but also to build trust and awareness of their products.
Getting buy in is definitely the hardest challenge. This is not new, it's always been hard, but covid made this significantly more difficult for me as an SEO. When businesses are operating in "emergency mode" it's harder than ever to ask & get resources for improvements, despite the well-proven value of SEO. The business is in another mindset, which is focusing on providing a better experience from a proposition stand-point & customer satisfaction. The improvement of the website has not lost value, but operating with more limited resources requires making hard choices - urgent fixes over improvements to things that are working.
We’re lucky to be a start-up with just one core product, so we don’t have the technical SEO challenges that I’m sure other retailers face!
Instead, we struggle to justify some top of funnel activities – such as digital PR and some types of long tail content creation – as we have to constantly try and measure the impact on the bottom line (which is not always easy!).
Manage the growing quantity of client side rendering code being delivered.
There's a mix of responses from our experts. However, the general trend is that budgets have at least remained the same, and in some cases have increased which is great to see as an attempt to capitalise on the increased online demand.
It has increased in the short term, but most significantly there has also been considerable investment going into the next financial year which is positive for the team as a whole.
The SEO plans and therefore cost has remained the same, but that’s because the business hasn’t suffered unlike many others during the pandemic. This question will be interesting to revisit at the end of the year when targets have been set for 2020 (will these be higher than this year, and if so, are they realistic or do we account for spikes due to change of behaviour) and see whether it changes depending on those.
Resources were reduced.
Increased – PitPat made their first SEO hire in March (that’s me) and now have a budget earmarked for digital PR campaigns.
Stayed the same.
The general consensus here is that forecasting (and re-forecasting) is more important than ever, everything is changing quickly and you need to know what's coming. However, it feels like brands are more forgiving on results as so much is driven by the changing demand of the economic climate which is out of our control.
Forecasts? I can't remember the last time I did so many forecasts. I'm quite pessimistic when it comes to forecasting so I always prefer to put forward a fairly poor outcome (I'm not sure my bosses like that). I don't think I need to worry about this year's results as much as I need to worry about forecasting next year. Large changes in consumer behaviour like we're experiencing can really make it tricky!
My clients have changed their forecasted results but have also been hit hard by the lockdown measures. It also meant a shift in how performance is tracked because it no longer was solely about traffic (which dropped due to the post-pandemic lifestyle) and so, internally, reporting became an educational piece that showcased more of the visibility of the site.
Coronavirus is something so unexpected that I would be very surprised if there is even one company in the world that doesn't have to adjust its forecast. One thing that not many SEOs/businesspeople are talking about is the need to involve human beings in analysing the current performance as most of the current forecast models are based on automation and are no longer accurate.
Most business models rely on historic business-as-usual patterns and with the business now anything but usual involving human logic is absolutely critical.
With that in mind, my advice would be to adopt short term scenarios with simple, more transparent modelling (forecast). Looking at the data from last year is simply pointless as the current customer behaviour is heavily dependent on the Coronavirus crisis outcome and relying on business-as-usual data can lead to strategies and actions that are insufficient or flat-out wrong.
Original targets were put on hold until numbers are back to what we recognise as "normal" and when that moment comes, the targets will be revisited.
Our results are highly changeable, so we are constantly forecasting, and that hasn’t changed. We have targets based on profitability and forecasts from organic search – but ultimately, organic search traffic changes most dramatically when we have big top of funnel campaigns driving brand and product awareness. These sometimes only take a couple of weeks of planning as we move so quickly, so there’s often not time to forecast results!
Honestly, we are planning to merge paid and natural revenues in a single number, in order to make sure that, as a performance marketing team, we are not working against each other and avoid cannibalization whenever it’s possible.
Money talks! It's encouraging to see that at the top of the list is organic revenue, that's absolutely the way it should be, SEO can only be treated seriously at board level if it's viewed as an investment in driving business/sales growth. From there it's important to have KPIs and lead/lag indicators which show you're on track, which the experts have well covered.
All of it. Thus, SEO is the only channel that looks into all levels of purchase journey, so visibility and traffic are our primary metrics and revenue follows through. It has been the case.
When reporting SEO success we always look at what the goal is for the experience we are optimizing. Obviously on retail we very much focus on revenue, AOV and incremental sales. This last bit is particularly important to me. Ensuring we drive incrementality on both new users and orders is key for the long term success of the business. On the other hand, when it comes to content experiences where we expect the users to engage with the assets we produce, I tend to focus on metrics that can tell me how well that content is responding to their informational needs. I particularly like to create custom KPIs made out of weighted averages where I combine time on site, bounce rate, visit depth, etc.
Our key metrics that we report to the business are Organic revenue, market share / visibility by department and we also do a % channel mix of traffic and revenue at a department level.
Average order value is always an important reporting metric in the luxury sector but when it comes to SEO performance, I look at conversion, for example if it’s an e-commerce site then ensure you’re looking at the revenue and couple that with the visibility, perhaps even per product category. If it’s too intricate then you’ll have to educate the wider business as to why it’s important not to just look at traffic which may be misleading, especially in these strange times.
Sales will always be the most important metric for organic search, but we also look at traffic, impressions, ranking keywords and visibility.
Revenues, orders, trying to move away from visits.
SEO is part of a performance team, within being a tech company with a strong analytical and Rocket Internet history. This makes us focus pretty much on business impact and those metrics that can represent it. Conversion rate and non-brand traffic are our biggest allies for SEO, but we report in more business oriented KPIs like LTV or CACs. This helps to keep it constant vs other performance channels and understand the real value of SEO for the whole business.
This interactive table and chart displays the data for 250 different brand domains in the Ecommerce sector. Use the drop down category menu below to see how domains in industry sub-categories compare. The interactive chart displays the 10 brand domains with the highest or lowest visibility (overall or by 'Month on Month' or 'Year by Year' difference) across the past 52 weeks. Click on the arrow next to each column heading to view the data in descending or ascending order.
Click domains in the key to show/hide them
Data for the Top 250 Ecommerce SEO League Table has been provided by SISTRIX. The SISTRIX Visibility Index is a value for the visibility of a domain in Google's search results and how the domain has developed with Google. The effects of Google updates on the rankings are also shown in the Visibility Index.
Watch our eCommerce SEO webinar with Steve Paine (Sistrix) explaining how the data for the top 250 domains was collected and categorised, followed by a panel with Alina Ghost (Amara), Dewi Nawasari (Sole Supplier) and hosted by Kevin Gibbons (Re:signal).