Why Amazon is winning at shopping search
A view from Charlie Davison

Why Amazon is winning at shopping search

Amazon's offer to consumers is less concerned with maximising relevance than Google's and it is paying off.

Sir Martin Sorrell commented at Advertising Week Europe last week that he expects Amazon’s advertising business to grow to be worth $100bn (£757bn). That’s quite a prediction and, if it comes to fruition, a lot of that will be thanks to brands capitalising on shopping search.

At Reprise, we have been discussing why the ecommerce giant has moved ahead of Google in shopping search, how the two will continue to battle it out in search across various fronts and how brands’ search strategies should vary across the platforms.

Amazon vs Google – the mission statements

For several years, Amazon has eclipsed Google as the starting point for product search, with studies showing it holds a 56% UK market share. That means if a brand isn’t actively engaged in organic and paid search activity on Amazon, it’s missing out on more than half of its potential ecommerce sales.

So why is Amazon getting ahead of Google in product search? Let’s consider their respective mission statements.

Google’s mission statement, according to Amit Singhal, its former senior vice-president for search, is "to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful". Whereas Amazon’s is "to be Earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online".

Google is entirely focused on providing answers to everything, while Amazon is focused on being the one-stop shop for everything.

As such, Amazon has made it quicker and easier for consumers to get what they want, chiefly through its simple user experience and navigation, variety and selection, price, predictable payment and delivery process.

Search results: differing objectives

These contrasting mission statements mean that Google and Amazon are looking to achieve subtly different things with their search results.

Google is trying to give users the most relevant result, so that they keep coming back to use its search engine. It verifies that it is doing a good job of this by measuring user engagement rates, click-through rates and bounce rates.

Amazon is trying to maximise sales. If it delivers great products at great prices in its search results, then users will convert and return to buy more products. Therefore, when running search activity for Google, the main focus of activity should be improving relevance. With Amazon, the main focus should be on improving overall conversion rate.

Why is Amazon such an attractive advertising platform to brands?

Amazon has some way to go before matching Google's advertising revenues. Paid search and online video (predominantly through Google and YouTube) make up the largest share of digital adspend in a world where digital is the biggest and fastest-growing media channel. Google’s advantage being that it provides brands with advertising opportunities across the entire consumer journey, from discovery to purchase.

Amazon’s advantage is in product search, where its direct-to-consumer ecommerce model makes it easy for brands to attribute immediate return on investment, and so brands are able to optimise to an average cost of sale in order to ensure profitability of campaigns.

Additionally, while Google is bound to provide relevancy in its results (its core product being to provide consumers with relevant content), the captive demand for products on Amazon means that it can be less restrictive with the ways in which it allows brands to advertise.

For example, while Google has always restricted the extent to which brands can bid on competitor brand terms and heavily factors content relevancy into its auction, on Amazon brands are free to bid on competitor brand terms and the relevancy of product pages plays a smaller role in ad position compared with bid value. This makes the marketplace more of a free-for-all for brands.

Furthermore, competitors can place display ads on brand product pages, meaning the brand is obliged to advertise further on its own product page to ward off competitors from stealing the sale at the last minute.

How can Amazon encroach further on Google’s dominance?

The current key battleground is the smart speaker space, where Amazon is pitching its Echo against the Google Home. In the UK, 9.5 million people used a smart speaker in 2018, up 98.6% on 2017. The Echo is currently leading the space over Home.

This is an important area for Amazon, since it further opens up areas of search beyond its current product search disposition, in particular the discovery-focused areas of informational and instructional search terms, currently dominated by Google and YouTube. Continuing to ensure Alexa dominates over Home while adoption grows will be critical.

As yet, neither Alexa nor Home offers advertising opportunities. However, as smart speaker penetration grows and becomes more commonplace, it seems inevitable that both platforms will investigate how to turn their devices into further advertising platforms.

Gone are the days when the traditional Google search engine was the one-stop shop for search, with consumers now split between different search platforms for different tasks. Google still holds the lion’s share, but it must be wary of Amazon’s moves to dominate beyond product search alone.

Charlie Davison is SEO director at Reprise EMEA