Digital’s drought is dragging on. The trend of falling traffic is just the first thorn of the cactus. Behind the top level traffic, there’s a general stagnation of some of the previously high-flying KPIs: traffic share from mobile and social.
During the 20-Teens, there were two reliable growth storylines: mobile was gobbling up share from other devices, and social traffic was consistently ticking up. Each of these factors literally re-shaped commerce. Alongside mobile’s rise, we saw one-click payment options like Apple Pay and Shop Pay give checkout – and even pdp’s – a new look. Mobile design gave way to responsive design, and for some a mobile-only mandate. Social synergized with the mobile growth, and became a top 4 or 5 traffic source for brands and retailers. More, social became a first-call for finding new shoppers. But, it was paid social that drove 4x the amount of traffic compared with organic (per Content Square's Digital Experience Benchmarks).
That fact deserves a side-bar of its own, and there’s a ton to unpack there, but here’s the tl;dr: of all social traffic, about 80% of it is paid. Compare that to search, where organic search represents a (slim) majority over paid search. So, you best know how your ratios compare, and it may be time to think about your segmentation for those audiences, and how you're balancing paid and organic.
<<Screeeeeeech>> The go-go days of social and mobile look to be behind us.
Over the past 2 years, mobile traffic share has stabilized. This should not be construed as bad news; shoppers gonna shop, and they'll choose where. In fact, the golden lining is that mobile order share has ticked up, meaning that mobile is converting better than ever. But, to be fair, mobile is not proving to be a traffic booster.
Social’s share stagnation is troubling. For many, social was the top-of-the-funnel filler, and held the promise of becoming another first-class engagement vehicle, and primary traffic source. During 2020, with ecommerce traffic skyrocketing, flat social traffic share was not a red flag. But, now that traffic has declined, and social share has stayed flat (to slightly down), the current state of social does not appear to be the traffic bailout that is needed to juice ecommerce traffic.
The Next Big Thing is…
So social and mobile are stagnant. Brands are seeing this, right?
Ugh. The top two growth opportunities that brands cite turn out to be the aforementioned downtrodden channels. In third place, brands mention marketplaces. Appropriately so, as both sides of marketplaces are having a moment. For brands, marketplaces offer a new channel; one which offers strong distribution, with lower overhead or risk than other channels may pose (compared with stores, which, while enjoying a terrific bounce-back, still require a strong and sustained organizational commitment). And, brands de-risk their acquisition efforts, too - paying out commission through order margin, instead of chunkier paid search or social investments. Marketplace operators are enjoying direct benefits. The boost in traffic and revenue contribution alone provides direct value. Indirectly, retailers are cementing their place in the shopper’s orbit as a shopping destination. Moving through the list, advertising appears as a bit of a head-scratcher (retail media is not listed, though checks in lower on the list). Loyalty and subscriptions round out the list of growth opportunities. Combining these is a bit curious, though the intent is similar – sustain shopper relationships.
What is the big takeaway from the above list? IMHO, the lack of any breakthrough innovation (or shiny object) reveals that brands aren’t hitching their shopping cart to any new near-term growth vehicle.
This should inspire a renewed interest in two different, but massively valuable initiatives: optimization and channel diversification.
Pick your favorite optimization flavor - conversion rate, search engine, performance, etc. – while it may not inspire boardroom glee, making the most of what is already in place is a natural approach when traffic decelerates. Fortunately, eCommerce stacks are overflowing with first-class tech, which, on the whole, offer far more value than is likely being tapped.
Channel diversification likely means that we’re about to see a lot more partnering up. For brands, that may mean joining marketplaces as a seller. For others, it may be strategic partnerships with specific retailers to go beyond standard wholesale engagements. And, we’re on the cusp of what will likely be another run on pop-up shops and store-in-a-store formats.
Either way, we’re entering rather uncharted ecommerce territory. The traffic drought will likely lead to some short-term pain, and even brand closures, but it is times like these that tend to manufacture some terrific innovation. Stay tuned.