When I was in 8th grade a few of my friends started using this new thing on the computer called the “internet” and online shopping wasn't even a concept yet. By mid-summer I’d start to see commercials for Starter Jackets, Trapper Keepers and Reebok Pumps while I watched TV shows like The Fresh Prince and Saved by the Bell. I’d see countless pages of clothing ads in Seventeen magazine and hear catchy jingles from local retailers while waiting for the next song on Casey Kasem’s Top 40. My parents usually discovered back-to-school deals through the Sunday newspaper circular. I remember my dad handing my mom the circular on Sunday morning saying, “Maria – there are some good deals on sneakers over at Foot Locker this weekend.”

So much has changed since then. Thanks to my DVR, I haven’t watched a commercial on TV for what feels like years (although I do catch the occasional funny commercial on YouTube). Thanks to my iPod and Pandora, I rarely listen to the radio anymore. The only newspaper I read is the one I get for free on the subway in the morning. Even my parents media consumption and shopping habits have changed. They stopped subscribing to the newspaper when I was in college and my frugal father loves finding coupons on “The Google.” Now he says “Maria – before you go to the mall let’s search on ‘The Google’ to see if we can find a good deal.”

This all reflects the fact that people’s shopping habits – across generations - have fundamentally changed. Now people take the initiative to look for the goods and services they want instead of relying on marketers to feed them information. If retailers and manufactures aren’t providing information when consumers want it, then their brand will likely fall out of the buyer's consideration set.

So this back-to-school season, don’t fall out of consideration! Here are 4 things to take into account when thinking about your back-to-school marketing plans:

1. Shopping Starts Early
Like many kids across the country today, in early June I’d be daydreaming about summer vacation and cheerfully singing along to Alice Cooper’s classic anthem “School’s Out” with my friends. However, today retailers should be humming a different tune. Back-to-school season is only a few weeks away. Yes, you read that correctly – weeks. If you look at search query trends on, terms like “school supplies” and “back to school” begin to rise in late June and continue through late September (See Graph). Retailers should be prepared to respond to this rise is consumer demand immediately in an effort to capture as much share of the back to school market as possible.

2. Tailor Campaigns to Moms AND Kids
Growing up, my mom was the primary back to school purchaser for me and my brother and today moms continue to be the gatekeeper for purchases related to their kids. We’ve found that moms are doing their homework when it comes to shopping:
  • 82% of moms go online prior to any purchase [1]
  • 57% of moms research online before purchasing in stores. [2]
Although my mom had final say on what we could buy, my brother and I had a lot of input into the brands and products that we eventually purchased. And today, kids have so many more brands to choose from that it is important that retailers not forget this influential target audience. A study from the NRF & BIGResearch found that 89% of moms say that their child directly influences their Back-to-School spend to a degree [3]. Additionally, about 50% of teens say online searches have an “extreme impact” on their purchase decisions [4]. If I had when I was 12 years old, I bet I would have found a way to convince my parents to buy me a pair of Reebok Pumps.

Retailers should adopt a two-pronged online marketing strategy to reach both audiences. For example, let’s say you sell sneakers. Increase brand preference among tweens & teens with targeted messages on sites where they spend a lot of time like Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace. Reach influencers with display ads on niche sites that review the latest sneaker trends (there over 50 in the Google Content Network right now!). Support these campaigns with tailored search ads to direct them when they seeking more information about your shoes. Reach moms who are ready to spend money and are searching on terms like “sneakers”, “sneaker deals”, or on your branded terms because their son or daughter can’t stop raving about your sneakers.

3. Bargain Hunting
Though my formative years were spent without the shadow of a major recession hanging over us, my father, the frugal fellow that he is, wisely treated every shopping expedition as if we were on the brink of entering the next Great Depression. To some people saving money is a sport, and with all the new technology available today, we are on a whole new playing field.

A recent Google study found that 53% of people spend more time online searching for the latest promotions and discounts [5] and 40% are very likely to use coupons accessed online [6]. Even younger folks are using coupons. 51% of college students are coupon clippers who are very likely to use coupons accessed online [7]. Search query trends also support this data. Queries for the term “coupons” on significantly increased during the 2008 holiday season and this trend continued into 2009. Since search query trends are an indicator of consumer demand, we can see that people are increasingly turning to as a resource for shopping.

Knowing that value is important to consumers and that people are searching for the best deals, retailers must optimize their search campaigns to ensure potential shoppers are aware of their back-to-school promotions.

4. Don’t Be Invisible: Manage Your Virtual Storefront
My mom and I usually went to the mall for back-to-school shopping. We always knew what we needed: clothes, shoes, school supplies, backpacks, etc. However, often times we didn’t have specific brands in mind so we would browse the stores to see what was available. Now that most retailers have a virtual store, browsing has translated online and the search engine is the equivalent of a mall. People search for products like “jeans” or “computers” and the organic and paid search results are similar to the storefronts you might see in your local mall. Your text ad is your storefront message (ie “Back-to-School Sale”) and your landing page is your in-store experience.

The virtual mall also gives manufacturers an advantage they have never had before. At your local mall, manufactures usually don’t have a storefront. Instead they rely on retailers to showcase their brand in a prominent position within the store. With search results, manufactures have their own storefront and the ability influence consumers who are browsing for a product they sell.

Queries for common back to school products such as “backpacks” or “kid’s sneakers” begin to rise in late June and spike through late September. These searchers are doing the same thing my mom and I did in the mall all those years ago, only they are doing it from the comfort of their home or office. If you sell backpacks and you aren’t on that search result page, it is equivalent to not having a store in the mall. Consumers won't find you and they will end up shopping elsewhere.

[1] Thinking about your upcoming holiday shopping, in which of the following ways do you think you'll approach your Holiday Shopping? Select all that apply. N=2,593. October 2008 OTX/Google Holiday Shopping Intentions Study.
[2] “Back-to-school shopping moves online,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 25, 2008
[3] National Retail Federation 2008 Back To School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch.
[4] Performics and ROI Research, as cited in “Tweens Search for Products Online, Get Parents to Buy Them in Store,” MediaPost, August 8, 2008
[5] Google Touchpoints Consumer Survey, N=8,675, January 2009
[6] Platform-A and IRI study as cited in “Young Coupon Clippers Looking Online,” Research Brief, April 10, 2009
[7] Platform-A and IRI study as cited in “Young Coupon Clippers Looking Online,” Research Brief, April 10, 2009

Little Changes, Large Results: 5 Things Marketers Can Do Now

In today's tough economic climate, it's increasingly important for marketers to utilize resources effectively - in particular, media dollars - in order to maximize ROI. But often times, marketers overlook what's immediately achievable.

Last week, Google Analytics Evangelist, Avinash Kaushik, led a discussion on the 'Top 5 Things Marketers Can Do Now" in order to maximize ROI. We realize some of you may have missed the opportunity to hear Avinash speak, but may still be interested in the tips he was able to provide. As such, you can view the recording below.

After viewing this recording, you'll learn how to immediately implement Avinash's tips for using data-driven insights to guide your marketing message and media strategies. You'll walk away knowing how to improve marketing efficiency, drive insights into consumer behavior, and generate greater returns on your marketing investments.

During a recession, there is usually one group that can be counted on to keep spending…Teens!

Necessities are often coming out of the parent’s pockets, leaving teens to spend their hard earned money from after school jobs, summer internships and birthday savings on themselves. Despite the recession, teens want to look good and they are going to spend their savings to make sure they look their best. 75% of teens are receiving the same or more spending money this year than they were last year. 40% of teens say they have "not been affected" by the recession. (1)

Teens want to look good regardless of what is going on with the economy and are therefore willing to sacrifice entertainment for apparel. 75% would choose a new pair of shoes over 50 new MP3 downloads, and 63% would choose a new pair of jeans over tickets to a concert. According to one study, nearly three-quarters are spending the same or more this year on cosmetics (70%), clothing (72%), hair products (71%) or skin care (74%). (1)

Now we aren’t saying that teens are completely oblivious to what is going on in the US, but it isn’t affecting their desire to shop. They are not shopping less, but are shopping smarter. Fifty-five percent of teens surveyed said they are waiting for things to go on sale prior to purchase; 50% said they are making fewer impulse purchase; 42% said they are doing more comparison shopping. Thirty-five percent said they are staying with their favorite brands and 31% of survey respondents said they are shopping at less expensive stores (1).

So, now that we know they are still shopping, how do we reach them? Teens live online, they buy online and they play online, so naturally the best place to reach them is online! 94% of teens are currently online (2) and they spend an average of 11.5 hours in front of the computer weekly! More than 70% of online teens actively use social networking sites (3). 16 million teens (nearly two-thirds of the population) own a mobile phone. Over one quarter of teen mobile phone owners (28%) access the Internet via their phone, compared with 17% of all mobile subscribers (4).

Talk to teens on their level and speak their language. Everything you do should be with your core audience in mind. Find the right message for your audience and use targeted placements to reach them. Create a buzz…using ads and promotions that leverage the viral capabilities of the Web are fabulous for reaching teens. Lastly, offer incentives such as “buy three, get one free” or free shipping to get their attention. Retailers such as American Eagle and Old Navy have been running ad copy with value messages like “Buy One, Get One 50% Off” and “Find Secret InStore Coupons at” respectively. Regardless of age, everyone loves to feel like they’ve gotten a good deal.

1. Online Teen survey from Seventeen Magazine, April 2009
2. Pew Internet and American Life Project, Teens and the Internet, January 9, 2009
3. Research from OTX and Intelligence Group Looks at Teens’ Online Behavior, June 2008
4. Multimedia Intelligence; Harris Interactive/CTIA – the Wireless Association; Nielsen Mobile

The retailers we talk to are all "interested" in social media, but they are often unsure of how to integrate it into their marketing or e-commerce initiatives. Today we'll look at a few examples of how retailers are using social.

Get "Buy" with a Little Help From Your Friends
My wife always wants a second opinion on purchases and shopping with friends gives her the instant feedback she craves. Is it the right color, fit, price point? Does the item connect to the occasion, the person or the season? As an online retailer, you might ask yourself what slice of the roughly 98% of your traffic that is not buying from you today is abandoning their purchase because they need a second opinion. Consumers say that word of mouth is still the number one influencer in their apparel (34.3%) and electronics (44.4%) purchases (Retail Advertising and Marketing Association/BIGresearch Study, November 2008). What we consider "word of mouth" has evolved to take on new forms - IM, email, mobile text messages and Facebook updates all represent the blurring reality that is word of mouth. For example, last week I bought a gift for my daughter by following a link a friend posted via Facebook. I never "talked" with my friend about the product, but rather used his experience as credibility to make the purchase. As retailers, you should be asking yourself how you can foster these kinds of interactions. TechCrunch highlights how Vans Shoes is using technology from their agency Fluid to improve conversion rates, by allowing users to instantly request feedback from their Facebook friends and instant messaging buddy list. According to the article, "If you see an item you like while browsing a retail site, you can request feedback about a product from your friends by pushing information about the product (such as images from clothing, links to products, and movie clips) to your Facebook status update." I noticed other retailers like incorporate this functionality within their customer reviews. This is not necessarily revolutionary given that social features like "email to a friend" have been around for some time, but it certainly dovetails nicely with the utility and popularity of tools like Facebook and instant messaging.

Twitter Service, Twitter Deals, Twinkle
Do you have a new product to announce, a promotional offer, or are you temporarily out of stock of a popular item? All of these issues are great use cases for maintaining a Twitter account. has aggregated Twitter feeds from multiple retailers so you can see what they are doing (examples include American Apparel, Diane Von Furstenberg, Zappos, Home Depot, etc.). In addition, Google just announced the availability of a new Twitter ad format, allowing marketers to take their tweets (Twitter messages) and target them to useful audiences on our content network. You can learn about how Intuit used this unit during tax season here. Twitter users are often mobile since the service easily connects to phones and the nature of tweets are only 140 characters, easily read via a mobile text message. In thinking about mobile and Twitter, I came across a service called Twinkle, which works in conjunction with Twitter, that would allow retailers to send tweets to audiences that are traveling anywhere from 1 to 1000 miles from their store locations (Note that service only supports the iPhone and iPhone touch - demo video is here ). Imagine a luxury or electronics retailer in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles looking to communicate a store event with the hundreds or possibly thousands of iPhone/iPod Touch users looming around their stores. If you want to read about more great Twitter tools that are possible for your website, here is a good Top 10 List. Also, here are two shameless plugs to see how Google is using Twitter,, and how the Google Retail team is using Twitter -

Overwhelmed by the Latest Social Media Buzzwords and Trends? Start with Customer Reviews
The most basic and perhaps highest impact "social app" is one that has been around for awhile - product ratings and reviews on your retail site. I am amazed at how few major retailers employ this technology and I keep hearing about the obvious benefits to conversion rate and quality assurance for retailers that do. According to a recent survey from Avail Intelligence, "over 36% of respondents rated recommendations, reviews and customer generated wish lists as the most useful aspect of an internet shopping site." Many of you may have noticed that Apple has been running both print and TV ad campaigns around particular themes related to applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch ("apps" for students, small businesses, etc.). As an iPhone user, I was taken with a print ad about saving money. There were two apps that sounded interesting to me so I went to the App Store on my iPhone and looked them up. Both applications had customer reviews of under 3 out of a possible 5 and the comments were on balance negative and well articulated, so much so that I immediately pulled back from spending the $0.99 on one app. You can call me cheap, but customers were questioning privacy controls associated with this particular app and I wasn't willing to risk a dollar in exchange for putting personal data at risk. I applaud Apple for being one of the poster children for customer reviews and trust Apple because the shopping experience on their site was implicitly transparent. They provided an honest forum, I felt more informed, and I will absolutely continue to shop their store in the future. For any retailer, the fundamental question has to be, how can we serve our customers better and more profitably? Customer reviews provide a treasure trove of data for you to become more informed about quality issues or service issues. Complaints are a fact of life in any business, especially in retail, but what customers judge you on is how you respond to them when there's a screw up. Customer reviews represent a fantastic opportunity for you to be more nimble and responsive in an increasingly competitive environment.

Little Changes, Large Results: 5 Things Marketers Can Do Now

In today's tough economic climate, it's increasingly important for marketers to utilize resources effectively – in particular, media dollars – in order to maximize ROI. But often times, marketers ignore what's immediately achievable.

Please join us on Tuesday, May 12th at 1:00pm EST / 10:00am PST when Analytics Evangelist, Avinash Kaushik, leads a discussion to share the "Top 5 Things Marketers Can Do Now".

You'll learn how to implement Avinash's tips for using data-driven insights to guide your marketing message and online media strategies immediately. And you'll walk away knowing how to improve online marketing efficiency, drive insights into consumer behavior, and generate greater returns on your marketing investments

Register today at:
Analytics Webinar-Avinash Kaushik