There once was a time where the online world (then the domain of nascent “digital marketers”) consisted primarily of two very distinct realms: Online search. And online commerce (also known as e-commerce or, when conducted via mobile device, m-commerce).
Search companies, like 800-pound online goliath Google, offered a clear path for online users to search for and find information. On the other hand, e-commerce companies provided online-based sales of desired products and goods.
The two different worlds also consisted of two separate business models. Fed by two very different revenue sources. And served by two sets of professional marketers with drastically different skill sets. It all made for a pretty simple, straightforward, easy-to-understand distinction.
Fast forward several years to today. And my, how quaint those times now seem in 2018 America. Where the word of the day online could very well be “convergence.”
Blurring the Lines…
Today, there is a hard-to-discern blurring of the lines between search and e-commerce. Search engines are making money from online purchases. While e-commerce companies are earning big dollars from advertising. At first, all this blurring can look awfully…confusing.
But look a bit closer, and you’ll see that this merging of search and e-commerce is nothing if not logical. Because when viewed through the lens of today’s always-online, smartphone-savvy consumer, it just makes solid sense.
Because really, when it’s all said and done, users don’t care about your business model. They just want to find what they came looking for online. Especially when they have a million other online to-do items on their checklist.
Google: Disrupting e-Commerce
Google is currently in the process of doing to e-commerce what the ever-innovative and deep-pocketed company always does, wherever it directs its energies and resources:
Enter, disrupt and quite likely conquer.
In one very powerful example of this online e-commerce disruption, Google is now offering direct travel bookings via Google Flights and Google Hotel Finder – draining revenue from the largest travel metasearch companies and online travel agencies such as Priceline and Expedia. In fact, one report states that Google Flights is already serving more online travel shoppers than traditionally dominant airfare booking site Kayak. Keep in mind that Google has historically monetized travel information, via ad revenue – somewhere north of $12 billion a year, per some reports. In non-travel-related realms, Google’s Shopping Actions program provides the company with a slice of the transaction revenue pie whenever shoppers referred from Google make purchases at retailers such as The Home Depot and Walmart. Suffice it to say that Google is now a major player in the e-commerce world – beyond merely its accustomed online advertising dominance.
Online Marketers: Don’t Despair…Yet
Sure, Google is a big, bold, brash, brilliant, powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-encompassing online dominator in 2018 America. But there’s still room for the little guy online. There’s always room for the little guy (or girl) – provided the little guy (or girl) goes out of his or her way to make that room.
To stay relevant today, e-commerce marketers must think and act at least a good bit like…Google. Take travel, for instance, where online buyers generally start researching their getaway several weeks in advance – and “comparison shopping” many sites before buying. Traditionally locked in on getting every user to make a purchase, many sharp online travel agents are now accepting and even embracing the reality that the vast majority of their visitors won’t make a purchase during their visit.
In other words, browsers aren’t always buyers. In fact, they most often are not. More accepting of this reality, online travel agents are also starting to think about their “upper funnel” users more like a search engine (such as Google) traditionally would. In essence, they’re trying to beat Google at their own game. Part of that process also involves serving highly targeted ads for other travel companies amid their own hotel, car or flight listings.
After all, online shoppers who never make a purchase (or “conversion” in e-commerce jargon) still come to the table with a wealth of behavioral and intent data – think departure and destination cities, dates and times of travel, purchase and browsing history, carrier preference, loyalty history, class of service and more. Leveraging this data to provide relevant offers from advertisers results in an open user experience – with ad engagement rates that are some 30 times that of traditional travel display advertising, according to some figures.
Serve Your Customers. And Serve Them Well.
Convergence is the name of the game today. Online travel agents, metasearch engines, several innovative airlines and an array of smart hotel chains already allow for competitors’ advertising on their own booking sites.
To survive convergence and emerge anything close to victorious today, e-commerce marketers must stop thinking like “one-brand destinations” – and transform themselves into launching points for users to find whatever it is they’re looking for and in need of.
Everything must begin and end with serving your online user – above anything and everything else. If doing so means somehow promoting your competition in the process? Suck it up. And do just that.
Just remember: as painful as this might feel at first, it’s best to think of such a strategy as beating Google at its own game. It’s also ideal to remember that you’re exercising a tried-and-true approach to successful marketing and sales efforts, regardless of the era, medium or marketplace:
Provide extensive information and high-end experiences for your users and customers, and you’ll be sure to stay in business for another day. Possibly quite longer. You might even create a solid and high-margin revenue stream for yourself in the process.
And who wouldn’t want that?