Thrifty searchers seek online deals as economic woes increase

Coupons are back, but with a twist. Instead of clipping, shoppers are clicking. The tried-and-true staple of discount shopping has reinvented itself as a powerful online advertising tool. More than 36 million consumers are searching online for coupons (up from 10 million in 2005) and visits to coupon Web sites have increased 56% from 2007 (Hitwise, June 2008).

What’s fueling this shift in coupon use is consumer reaction to hard economic realities. Rising food prices, job uncertainty and overall tightened budgets have prudent shoppers flocking online to save money.

For the first time in more than a decade, consumers rank low prices as the most important determinant of what and where they will by, outpacing product quality, customer service, the shopping experience and ease of shopping (AlixPartners Consumer Sentiment Index, 2008).Yet, for search marketers, there is a silver lining.

While most direct marketers will feel the effects of consumers cutting back on spending, those with a substantial online presence, especially those offering discounts, are expected to weather the downturn well. This is because consumers now perceive e-commerce as a value-driven channel that allows them to comparison shop for deals and do so without leaving home.

In April, iCongo reported 55% of shoppers sought out online retailers because of lower prices and, among the top 250 search terms driving traffic, 60% of the search queries include a specific brand or branded product. 

With consumers actively searching for the best deals online and search engines accounting for 20 percent of the traffic referred to coupon sites, direct marketers need to pay close attention to their ad copy, keywords and landing pages.   

Marketers should emphasize special offers in ad copy and throughout their Web site to engage consumers. Deals that pledge to meet or beat competitors’ lowest price or coupons offering free shipping, for example, will likely attract shoppers seeking bargains.

Marketers also can cater to coupon seekers with loyalty-based incentives to encourage repeat purchases, coupons that encourage multiple item purchases, open-ended coupons — such as “1 off $5 purchase” — and/or online-only pricing and discounts.

Keyword monitoring and landing pages also provide opportunities for direct marketers. Expanding generic keywords can help attract and capture discount shoppers, as can more concerted efforts to bid on more cost-effective keywords. Advertisers also should place coupons prominently on landing pages and have smart search results pages for sale/clearance items.

Tight economics will impact consumer spending, but a well-developed coupon strategy will allow search marketers to continue to thrive.

Michael Kahn can be reached at [email protected].

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