Study: Even Anonymous Online Customers Leave Multiple ‘Clues’ Indicating Purchase Intent

One of the top digital challenges faced by retailers is driving shoppers to their ecosystem in the first place: 83% named acquiring new site traffic as a top priority , according to a survey by RSR Research in partnership with Coveo Solutions. A key reason for the challenge is that consumers’ frequent starting points for online shopping are Amazon and Google. These two sites are where the majority of shoppers’ journeys start for 57% of retailers, so getting prospective customers from there to the retailer’s site can be a bigger challenge than sealing the sale.

By comparison, 59% of respondents are focused on creating more onsite conversions — a large share of respondents, but significantly smaller than those who see bringing in traffic as a key concern. Most retailers aren’t going to be able to beat Amazon in terms of price and convenience, so they should instead focus on finding reasons for consumers to shop with them that Amazon can’t match.

“[Amazon] did what Walmart did in the 1990s,” said Brian Kilcourse, Managing Partner at RSR Research in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “They reduced [the value proposition] to a couple of simple value points that are easy to master. Consumers are aware of this and in the absence of more complex value propositions, they’ll just go to it. It’s the easiest thing to do. So the challenge for retailers is to create a more compelling value proposition that’s more complicated and has more attributes to it.”

Accomplishing this goal doesn’t necessarily require pulling out of Amazon altogether. In fact, 83% of respondents said that they have increased their interactions with the ecommerce giant over the past 12 months, and 55% sell everything that’s on their site through Amazon as well. Winners, defined as retailers with same-store/channel growth above the industry average of 4.5%, interacted more with Amazon on average compared to underperformers.


This may be a sign that the most confident retailers see Amazon as another discovery channel as well as a competitor. Retailers with the right experience to beat Amazon’s focus on price and convenience are well-positioned to close transactions that started elsewhere.

You Have the Clues, so Give Shoppers What They’re Looking For

The key to capturing these customer journeys is understanding what the shopper is looking for in terms of both experience and product selection. RSR and Coveo found that 61% of retailers say the digital experience has become an increasingly important part of their brand. However, there is still work to do, as 56% say their competition is doing a better job acting on customers’ expectations.

Luckily for omnichannel retailers, they already have a model to emulate that’s very different from what Amazon offers: the in-store experience. The best stores have service that’s a step above the competition, making the customer feel like a welcome guest rather than just part of a transaction. The trick to translating this experience online is finding the right clues to bring basic personalization to the next level.

These clues are usually more obvious in the world of in-person retail. “What in the analog world do we look at as excellent service?” said Brian McGlynn, General Manager of Ecommerce at Coveo in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “What really strikes when you walk into a store like Nordstrom or others is the personalized service and the relevancy. For example, you walk into a sporting goods store like DICK’S Sporting Goods and you go to the golf section, pick up a club and ask the person in the section about finding some gloves — they’ve got clues to help you.”

With online shopping, there are often barriers to collecting clues that would baffle even Sherlock Holmes. For example, retailers reported that just 5% of shoppers log in to retailers’ sites while shopping on more than half of their trips, with most opting to wait until checkout or simply using guest checkout. So bringing the helpful associate experience online calls for finding the right clues while minimizing any points of friction.

Fortunately for retailers, it’s not always necessary to gather data at the individual shopper level in order to deliver personalization. “At the risk of sounding a little bit too blasé about it, we consumers are kind of predictable animals,” said Kilcourse. “We do the same things over and over and over again. Nobody knows us better than a grocer. I come from fast-moving consumer goods and we knew that 65% of all the journeys that consumers made are made every single week. It’s the old milk-and-eggs issue. Oddly enough, that applies in many, many different cases.”

Data is the key here. It may be hard to track individual shoppers, but retailers can keep an eye on shopper habits in aggregate, and utilize AI and machine learning to quickly determine what kind of help a shopper might be seeking.

Additionally, the most forward-thinking retailers are going above and beyond basic personalization to incorporate factors like geography and time of year, which can potentially allow them to build out entire customer profiles based on the search terms that brought them to the site. From there, the retailer has a better chance of convincing customers to log in to build an even more accurate profile — or simply keeping them within the ecosystem for the remainder of their journey.

“It is possible for retailers to essentially identify the intent as a consumer rather quickly,” said Kilcourse. “As consumers in the digital domain, we’re leaving clues all the time. A lot of those clues get left unnoticed, and that’s unfortunate. The gist of the challenge is to get the consumer to a solution more quickly than otherwise.”

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