EMEA Holiday Search Trends: How to Manage the Biggest Digital Season Yet

Holiday search trends digital

This time last year, we released our annual Holiday Search Trends report. As is typical for our annual report, our study focused on predicting foot traffic by examining when “get directions” clicks to businesses peaked on search engines. The goal was to reveal when different types of businesses could expect a surge of shoppers at their doorstep, allowing them to prepare for — and take advantage of — the influx. 

To state the obvious, we’re now living in a very different world. Comparing metrics like “get directions” clicks to 2019 benchmarks isn’t very useful in a world gone largely (and in some cases, exclusively) virtual. But there’s still a lot that businesses can learn from the way consumer behaviour has shifted during the past eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. By combining new insights from these past eight months with our typical methodology, we’ve extrapolated to project what this unusual holiday season might look like for some of the verticals we work with.* Here are the takeaways from our EMEA-wide research:

1. In a global pandemic, Ecommerce is the only reliable commerce.

With rolling lockdown periods and COVID restrictions reintroduced (and lifted, and reintroduced…) across the U.K. and Europe, it makes sense that some verticals have taken a big hit to brick-and-mortar stores this year — but that makes the online funnel all the more important across the board. Website clicks will be up significantly this holiday season for key verticals like food & dining, pharmacies, supermarkets, and retail.

Ecommerce has grown significantly, and many businesses are capitalising on more time spent shopping online versus in-store shopping. Even where directions clicks have begun to rebound, website clicks have stayed above pre-pandemic levels, which indicates the increase in ecommerce is here to stay. Thus, website clicks are spiking across industries — and investing in your website experience is important for businesses of all stripes. A few highlights:

  • In the few days leading up to Christmas (21st to 23rd December), we’re expecting over double the amount of website traffic for supermarkets and pharmacies.
  • Surprisingly, website traffic to jewelers is also set to double! While some customers will still try to make these expensive purchases in person (see below), far more shoppers than normal will be doing their browsing online. 
  • Food & Dining should focus on their online ordering throughout the peak holiday season: While clicks for driving directions will drop (projected to be down as low as -45% on the 22nd and -29% on the 27th), website clicks are a different story. Website clicks will increase as customers look to order in, peaking at 24% higher than normal on the 22nd and 33% higher than normal on the 29th. 

To explore more stats by vertical, click here to check out the COVID-19: Yext Search Data Hub.

2. Store visits have declined, but select industries are still set to see a spike over the holidays.

In a year where digital interactions are taking the lead, it’s true that foot traffic isn’t what it used to be. That said, some people are still willing to visit a brick-and-mortar store, particularly for big-ticket items. So, while many businesses are shifting the bulk of their operations online, there are some that are either more convenient or only possible by visiting a physical location. 

  • While jewellery stores are experiencing a surge in website clicks, they will still see a rise in foot traffic (in areas where stores are open) during the lead-up to Christmas (21st-23rd). We are projecting a 108% increase in “get directions” clicks during this period.
  • An interesting development in Financial Services are the peaks in driving directions for insurance and loan businesses in the week before Christmas. Insurance services are expected to see a 161% peak on the 16th, while loans & advance businesses are expected to increase by 85% of the 17th.
  • Foot traffic isn’t expected to be high for many businesses in the days after Christmas, but surprisingly, furniture and telecom are fairly resilient in this period: Both should be expecting a peak of 111% in directions clicks on the 28th of December.

3. New Year’s Resolutions, anyone? Customers are interested in getting fit and updating their look for the start of 2021.

Nothing says “New Year, new you” like an increased interest in sports and fitness. 

  • Businesses in sporting and fitness verticals should expect a 15% increase in web traffic on the 30th, as well as double the number of phone calls on the 31st as customers start planning for their New Year’s resolutions. (More on phone call increases below.) 
  • Another set of businesses that benefit from the post-Christmas rush? Hair and nail businesses, which are expected to see 85% increase in website traffic on the 27th, and even more than double the traffic on the 30th.

4. Businesses should prepare for rise in phone call clicks — and equip their website to answer questions

Phone calls clicks from Google have been on the rise over the past year, as people seek help from customer service channels when they can’t get their questions answered through search. But it’s not just irate customers — a recent social media survey conducted by Yext showed that about half of respondents who called a business said they were calling to confirm that the store was open, despite what they may have seen on Google.

This brings up an important question about how much people can trust what they see on Google for a question as basic as “are you open right now?” With information from hours to offerings changing so rapidly due to the pandemic, customers need a source they trust more than third-party listings: They need online information right from the source — which highlights the growing need for businesses to provide answers people can trust through their own website.

As we wrote earlier this year, website visits from consumers seeking information about businesses have skyrocketed during the pandemic. This tells us that customers are showing their willingness to turn to online self-service offerings, and it makes sense for companies to further invest in these tools. Improving site search functionality can help businesses deal with the deluge of requests they’re facing right now — leading to a more positive and effortless customer experience and increased brand trust — while also lowering support costs

That’s great long-term planning, but right now, we theorise that both website clicks and phone calls will increase this holiday season. Businesses need to get ready to answer customer questions with a two-pronged attack: Improving their website’s ability to answer questions and prepping their customer service team.

  • Mailing & Packaging businesses should expect high amounts of phone calls the week before Christmas, with an expected peak of 180% increase in clicks-to-call on the 20th. 
  • Music stores tend to be a popular last-minute Christmas shopping option, and they should see considerable increases in both web traffic and phone calls both on the week before and week of Christmas (16th-24th).  Website clicks are expected to at least double during the entire period, while phone calls will triple the week before Christmas – peaking at 358% on the 23rd.

As people look to keep their loved ones safe by keeping a distance, this holiday season is unlikely to look like any we’ve seen before: Massive foot traffic to physical stores and large-scale festive gatherings are on hold until 2021. 

But that’s all the more reason for businesses to deck the (digital) halls by getting ready for more clicks — and more online questions — than ever. By updating your listings before these key dates, supercharging your site search experience, and knowing when to expect an influx of calls, businesses should still be able to see high holiday sales — and spread (virtual) holiday cheer. 

 

*Methodology: The estimated impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the volume of clicks for directions, clicks to websites and phone call clicks for the upcoming 2020 holiday season is estimated by the sum of the seasonal growth in the volume of clicks during the holiday season in 2019 plus the change in the volume of clicks since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 versus a pre-pandemic baseline in January 2020. The seasonal growth in the volume of clicks during the holiday season in 2019 was estimated by comparing the daily average volume of clicks in autumn 2019 (September 2019 through October 2019) to each day in the 2019 holiday season (December 7, 2019 through January 1, 2020). The change in the volume of clicks since the start of the pandemic was estimated by comparing the volume of clicks each day from March 2020 through October 2020 to the daily average volume of clicks in January 2020, taking the daily average fluctuation to acquire an average impact of the pandemic. Volume of clicks was examined by vertical and each type of click. Projected percent changes are relative to autumn 2019 and January 2020, to account for both holiday seasonality and the impact of the pandemic. These estimates are not a guarantee of future results, performance, or events and such estimated changes may not occur or be achieved.

 

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