Adam Freeman, managing partner at digital marketing agency MediaVision, looks at how the pandemic has changed the way even the most old-school retailers are looking at e-commerce.

The pandemic may have been tough for many high street businesses, but it also accelerated positive change by forcing them to adopt e-commerce as a matter of survival.

Indeed, by investing in a digital model, legacy bricks and mortar businesses were able to both stay on the radar of jewellery shoppers and begin competing with native e-commerce players, who were several steps ahead by the time lockdown was imposed.

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This has led to a levelling of the playing field over the last few years, largely thanks to investments in advanced search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, as well as other digital investments, such as virtual try-ons, and remote shopping assistants.

It certainly matches business strategy with the ‘new normal’ for jewellery shopping – which CEO of Signet Jewelers, Virginia C Drosos, says now most often starts online, with 85% of her customers taking an omnichannel “connected journey”.

With the High Street open again and shopping habits a recalibrated mix between online and offline, what’s the next step in this digital evolution for legacy retailers, and how can the competition be taken one step further?

Well, organic search certainly remains the most cost-efficient strategy to take market share away from a competitor, yet to date that has always been reactive (onsite optimisation) and proactive (digital PR and onsite content).

It has also required retailers to look backwards for the insights to guide these marketing strategies, which risks missing new trends and behaviours. Although this works, it’s not as effective as it could be, particularly in today’s unpredictable markets, which can be impacted by a range of unforeseen trends, from fashion to inflationary pressures.

Thinking about SEO as a predictive tool, therefore, shifts things a gear; it means the SEO function is also there to spot those future trends so that a business can better prepare and earn high rankings later.

This sounds like something almost too good to be true, but the tech and the data have evolved, and today we have tools such as digital demand trackers that can help businesses anticipate consumer search behaviour, rather than optimising by reacting to past data or presumed trends.

Gaining a competitive edge

‘Predictive SEO’ is especially useful because it enables any e-commerce business to maximise the benefits of the whole customer demand cycle; the early warnings, optimising sales and margins, scaling with demand, and building an integrated approach to SEO across an organisation and creating a new growth engine that ensures it is seen as key investment channel.

In short, it can be made to work much, much harder.

For example, annual trends from a buying point of view are notoriously tricky; what was successful last year might not be successful this year, or a new fashion trend could come out of nowhere and leave retailers without adequate stock. As a result, retailers need speed-to-insight to gain a competitive edge, and understanding demand and trends at a product level is therefore hugely useful.

A digital demand tracker assists by supplying search trend data that can be modelled to predict actual product demand. Furthermore, passing this data to buying teams allows them to not only understand what products need to be prepared, and details such as which materials or style; but also the volume they need to be purchased or prepared in.

It goes deeper

Search demand data has further uses; it can also be deployed to sculpt links to provide the right visibility of certain products on a retailer’s website; can ensure products are correctly named and in-line with what people are searching for; be used to tailor and optimise PPC ads; and it can help with content planning and production.

At every business touchpoint, incremental optimisations can be made, helping spread the value of predictive SEO throughout a retailer’s operations, and feeding back to boost organic rankings.

The difficult task, however, is tying this together – but the best way to start that process is by investing in digital skills, rethinking what SEO really means today, and how digital demand data should sit at the heart of such a proposition.

And rest assured that by doing so, traditional retailers will be futureproofed by having both a better performing online function, as well as a physical presence in the real world – a two-sided model that even the digital natives will soon find themselves keen to emulate.

Adam Freeman is managing partner at digital marketing agency MediaVision.

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