Ecommerce the next frontier for search advertising in China: OMD

A study from OMD China points to the growing importance of ecommerce sites in search advertising.

Ecommerce the next frontier for search advertising in China: OMD

Ecommerce is emerging as the second battlefield for search advertising in China, where 9% of the online searches for skincare, automobile and travel-related items are performed on ecommerce sites, according to OMD China’s Dive Search report.

Nevertheless, search engines still take the largest share of the pie, at 85%, with Baidu being the most popular. Overall, a quarter of digital spend in China is taken up by search, the report says, citing iResearch figures from May 2017.

User searches by type of site.

For 150 of the respondents from Tier 1 to Tier 4 cities, who were tracked over a period of two weeks across different devices, 80% said they used more than one search engine, while another 47% did not deliberately choose a specific search engine and only used what was installed on their devices. The study accumulated 13,355 search strings on 165 platforms; a separate consumer survey was conducted on consumer behaviours.

Distribution of search engines used by the respondents.

Key findings of Chinese consumer search behaviours by the digits:

  • 90% of searches go beyond the first page
  • Product and service-related searches make up 19% of total searches
  • Mobile (52%) exceeds desktop (41%) as the go-to device to perform searches
  • 97% of searches use auto-completion
  • 68% use voice or picture search.
What Chinese consumers are searching for.

Generally, the findings of the study follows the logic of the less consumers know, the more they search. For instance, more women searched on the automative category compared to men (8.1% vs. 5.8%) while the opposite was true for the skincare category (6.0% men vs. 4.7% women). Purchase decisions in the automotive area appeared to be most affected by search, with female consumers being singled out as the most influenced by the image and text combo result on Baidu in this category. The feature works for both skincare and automotive but not travel.

On the differences between consumer search behaviours on ecommerce sites versus search engines, consumers are more specific on ecommerce sites than they are on search engines in general, although this differs slightly by category. In the skincare category, for example, 40% of searches on search engines are for brand names; the corresponding figure is only 21% on ecommerce sites.

Bhasker Jaiswal, managing partner, marketing sciences, OMD China, said the differences between searches on ecommerce sites compared to search engines are defined by a higher number of searches on a combination of brand and product names (29% vs. 25%) as well as brand flagship stores (29% vs. 10%).

Jaiswal however stressed that search engines and ecommerce sites serve different purposes in the consumer journey, with the latter being almost at the purchase point. “Spend on search engine and ecommerce is not a zero sum game," he said. "Brands are simply not diverting spending from one channel to another. It depends on the categoy and brand to decide the right investment level on search engine and ecommerce.” He added that spending on ecommerce sites, however, is growing faster.

What marketers should do before consumers hit the search engine is to use online and offline mass advertising channels to build “top of mind” awareness using various platforms including TV, OTV and OOH, Jaiswal said. “In the whole consumer journey, search is a step close to the purchase point already," he said. "It cannot serve as an always-on mass awareness builder, but should be used as an always-on information source.”

Regarding the adoption of new technology in search, Jaiswal is optimistic that the platforms will improve, and that voice search will become more practical for consumer. “As technology advances, smart speakers will be able to assist with a lot of tasks, including making regular purchases," he said. "But it will still be difficult to describe search results in voice when people want to explore on search engines."

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