Emerging Product Search Trends Amidst Global Pandemic

COVID-19 has taken the world by storm.

And it shouldn’t be taken lightly — hundreds of thousands of people have already been affected by the virus, and that number will continue to expand.

As Covid-19 disrupts businesses and people’s ways of life, we all stand to benefit from the sharing of data and strategies. Just as the doctors contact-traced each patient in the early stages, Constructor is examining search data to glean a better understanding of how consumers behave during this crisis.

What can we learn about consumer behavior during massive events (global pandemic or not)? How can retailers best prepare for an event of similar size (and even events much smaller than COVID-19)? What technologies can retailers implement to better understand their buyers during these times?

Now more than ever before, consumers are turning to online shopping, and searches for essential items spike

The search traffic across our clients has jumped by an average of 20% over the last few weeks, and searches for essential items like hand sanitizer are leading the pack.

Many consumers are now turning to online shopping to find essentials they’re unable to find in-store:

Pictured: A ~114x increase in one site’s search count for the “sanitizer” query that happened within 1 month

Pictured: Huge increases in the “sanitizer” query over the past 60 days on multiple retail sites

As more consumers experience the ease-of-use of online retail for essential items during this time, we expect that many of them will continue to do so in the future. We’re already seeing this now with other products spiking across essential goods retailers:

Pictured: ~92x increase in search count for the “toilet paper” query over the last month

The sudden rush for toilet paper took everyone by surprise. People started looking for it everywhere, including sites where it used to be a relatively rare search.

Even as the initial surge of buyers began to subside after the first few days of purchases, once the potential length of quarantines and lockdowns began to sink in, searches for toilet paper began going up again. This further highlights the need for retailers to understand the “why” behind search query spikes — and also the downswings:

Pictured: ~12x increase in the “N95” query followed by decreases on one e-commerce site

Near the start of March (when the virus went into full-swing globally), searches for N95 — a type of filtration mask — peaked. A few weeks later, however, the search counts began to decrease. Why?

As experts & media began discussing the greater importance of hand sanitizer in preventing the virus from spreading, fewer consumers looked to purchase face masks and instead began looking for sanitizer.

But not every decline was caused by external forces:

Patience with sub-par search is running thin

Similar to the previous facemask example, you can see that searches for “mondkap” (Dutch for “face mask”) quickly peaked towards the end of February, but dropped almost as fast:

The only difference?

This drop wasn’t caused by increased hand sanitizer awareness. It also wasn’t caused by a lack of face masks sold by the retailer.

The retailer did sell face masks; however, they were named differently than what most consumers were searching for, so many ended up on a zero-results page. After about a week of searching for “mondkap” (or the related “mondkapje” or “mondkapjes”), most gave up trying to find the masks on this site and presumably went elsewhere.

It’s hard to nail the naming of products. You can’t predict how a user will search for something 100% of the time, and the window to fix the problem when something is trending can be slim. Adopting systems to predict what customers are trying to type/find and get better over time ensures trends are quickly surfaced and accounted for, automatically. It’s worth noting this is a problem Constructor would have solved automatically, but this site did not have the service installed at the time.

The ability to highlight search opportunities grows more important

It’s no surprise that queries like “hand sanitizer” or “face mask” have spiked in traffic recently. But what about the queries that aren’t so obvious?

We came across many of these types of queries in our research, like “zinc:”

If you aren’t immersed in the world of cold and virus remedies, the spike in this keyword may have caught you by surprise. It’s hard to keep a close eye on everything your consumers may want related to an event or trend, but if you aren’t quickly capitalizing on the items that spike, you could miss your chance to get in front of the trend, provide users with a good discovery experience, and make sure the stock of items matching what users want is sufficient.

COVID-19 further highlights the utility of tools that allow you to track (and act on) emerging opportunities:

Pictured: trending query “opportunities” over the last 30 days on a customer site

Pictured: New queries, or queries that haven’t been searched significantly in the past

Opportunities aren’t the only thing to watch for

While many queries can spike during big events/trends, there are also queries that can decline.

Take the “suitcase” query, for example:

As many consumers put their traveling activities on pause, the need for purchasing suitcases has also declined.

As a retailer, not only do you need to closely monitor the items that are spiking, but also the items that are declining. This information is critical for your decision making in roles related to supply and merchandising.

Now is the time to prepare

Now more than ever, we’re seeing that eCommerce must quickly adapt to world events.

Is your company ready?

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