COVID-19 has caused international havoc

Countries have restricted travel, closed stores, and cancelled events around the world; but how has this chaos affected customer search behaviour in the luxury fashion vertical? And what immediate learnings can designer brands take from the outbreak to improve their SEO strategy?

Luxury fashion has historically had a heavy dependence on selling products in-store, allowing people to enjoy an experience. COVID-19 changed human behaviour globally, stopping stores opening and preventing in-store purchases. Even now, with some countries opening up shops, the lack of footfall may still impact brands. With this lack of physical presence, should luxury fashion companies move investment toward their digital platforms? 

Luxury fashion companies sell to exclusive customers, so they probably don’t have to worry as much about customers radically reducing expenditure (compared to high-street brands), but they are reliant on a worldwide customer base. Now, with travel so restricted across the world, luxury brands need to understand how this has impacted online customer interest internationally. 

In this article, we’ll shed some light on these questions and investigate the effects of COVID-19 on search behaviour across luxury fashion third-party resellers. According to Google’s research on How Affluent Shoppers Buy Luxury Goods 75% of luxury goods customers research online before purchasing, and 68% of customers use a search engine in their research. This case study was created back in 2013, so the likelihood is that this audience was even larger before COVID. We’ll explore whether this behaviour has negatively impacted searches. And the answer will likely surprise you.  

How has non-branded search behaviour changed across the world?

First, we looked at the non-branded search behaviour worldwide, comparing March- June’s 2020 search traffic following the COVID-19 pandemic with 2019 search data. We did this for a select set of [designer] terms. 

This data was collected using Adwords and it is important to note that we only used a small, select set of very top-level keywords to inform our findings. We encourage you to expand outward from these terms to determine more patterns relevant to your business. 

Our findings show that, worldwide, the number of searches has increased for most of the designer terms we chose to investigate. Apart from designer suits and dresses (which have arguably dropped due to the lack of events, and the lack of ability to get fitted), and (wrist)watch interest remaining consistent, all other designer terms have increased. Even shoes, despite customers not being able to go outside as often, has increased in search volume.

world wide designer searches

This is surprising behaviour and in stark contrast to high-street clothing generics, which has seen search volume drop YoY across most categories except leggings (as more people stay at home and choose comfier clothing options). While high-street shops are losing revenue, more luxury customers are moving online to shop now that stores are closed and are actually providing an opportunity for luxury to expand digitally. 

high street generic searches

Below, you'll find search volumes broken down by different countries which have a high proportion of customers who shop luxury.

UK overall non-branded [designer] terms March - June 2019 vs 2020

total UK designer searches

Again, the UK has experienced an increase in searches. But what terms specifically have caused this growth?

UK non-branded searches March - June 2019 vs 2020

Uk designer searches graph

Despite COVID-19, search around many designer terms has actually increased, with only suits and dresses experiencing a reduction in searches, likely a result of a lack of events and public gatherings, coupled with the issue of being unable to visit a store to be fitted.

US overall non-branded [designer] terms March - June 2019 vs 2020

This trend continues in the US, with a total of 251,000 extra searches from the period of May to June in 2020:

US overall designer searches

US non-branded searches March - May 2019 vs 2020

US designer search graph

  • The graph above presents some surprising findings. Despite international travel and event disruptions, luxury searches increased searches for designer clothing and accessories increased. 

  • The only searches which did not show growth were [designer dresses] and [designer suits], which have remarkably remained stable, differing in behaviour to the UK. 

UAE non-branded searches (English) March - May 2019 vs 2020

Overall, the searches in the United Arab Emirates have increased by about +2,000 searches (although it is important to note that the country also has a high Arabic speaking population which is unaccounted for here).

UAE overall searches

UAE designer searches

  • [Designer] suits has reduced in searches, again probably because of the issues that come with fitting a suit, but other than that, all the other searches have increased. 

  • In the UK, US and UAE search interest has shown growth for designer terms, and reflects searches worldwide, with suits being the clothing type with least interest. 

Overall, search interest in designer terms is showing a positive trend. This suggests that, despite lockdown and people being unable to travel internationally, luxury customers have, instead of reducing purchases, begun taking their shopping habits online.

This growth demonstrates that luxury retail companies actually have an opportunity to target more online customers than ever before, and should invest and expand their digital offering, as customers previously not searching online, have begun to move into the digital environment.

So what can luxury brands do?

1. Monitor search interest on a month-by-month basis

Tracking search volumes month-on-month and comparing interest to 2019, is a strategy you can use to identify product categories with more interest. This will help to dictate the types of categories you need to concentrate on optimising, for each country.

However, this data is only available the month after the searches occurred. If you need a way to track shifting search behaviour as soon as possible, Google Search Console is your friend. With a data delay of 1-2 days, you can track changing behaviours week-on-week to identify when searches pick up for particular terms.

2. Audit your international search strategy 

Luxury fashion brands rely on an international audience. With an increase in searches, it is more important than ever to ensure that your website is highly visible across international Google properties. Page 1 generates about 90% of all clicks, which means competition for the top spot is fierce. Investing in SEO will help increase brand visibility internationally, and drive revenue throughout the world.

Here are five tips you can use to begin implementing your international SEO strategy:

Tip 1: Use rank tracking tools 

You will need the ability to track rankings in each country. For example, if you wish to track Google rankings for the United Arab Emirates, you will need to set up rank tracking for the Google property associated with the country i.e. google.ae. Our proprietary technology, the Ayima Reporting Tool can give our clients access to rank tracking reports like this, alongside detailed market intelligence reporting. If you’d like to request a demo, get in touch

Tip 2: Discover what search engines you need to be visible for

Find out which search engines are used the majority of the time in each country. According to Internet Live Stats, Google owns 78% of the world’s search market share:

Google Search Statistics
Internet Live Stats: Google Search Statistics, 25.06.2020

This includes:

  • Europe
  • US
  • Japan
  • UAE

Notable exceptions include:

  • China: Baidu is the country's preferred search engine, but the first page is packed with ads, which can make ranking organically less valuable than on Google (although Google is not available in China, you can run third-party ads on their partner sites). 

  • Russia: Yandex was the preferred search engine until very recently when Google started overtaking in market share. The split is now around 55% Google-owned market share and 45% Yandex.

Decide which search engines your business needs to be visible on by determining how much revenue is generated for each country, and the potential number of searches your brand is missing out on. 

If you want to find out which search engines customers in different countries favour, Statista has the best up to date information.

Tip 3: Avoid low quality translations

One of Google’s ranking factors is content. To rank effectively internationally, content should be of high quality, which means translations should not be automated. 

If they are, they should be thoroughly checked by a native language speaker. Google will not reward a low-quality translation, viewing it as a sign that the content is of poor quality, and not as useful to users.  

Tip 4: Implement international targeting

Implementing the correct international targeting signals to Google and other search engines will help to ensure the correct country language variation of your website appears in the correct region.

For example, Hreflang tags tell Google which language and country (for example en-gb or English- UK) a page should target. It looks something like this (excerpt found on Google Support website):

  • <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" href="http://en-gb.example.com/page.html" />
  •  <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="http://en-us.example.com/page.html" />

A breakdown of what each tag means can be found at Google Support

Hreflang can be implemented in multiple ways, and what you do depends upon the site’s architecture, CMS and requirements. It is best implemented by a professional SEO. John Meuller tweeted in 2018: 

Other considerations need to be taken into account such as site structure (using a ccTLD, subdomain or subdirectories), the relationship between pages (does each region and language have an exact alternative to other regions) and more.

If you want to chat about your international SEO implementation with us, contact [email protected].

Tip 5: Create an 'out of stock product' strategy

The other problem that ecommerce websites traditionally struggle with, is a common SEO issue which has been exacerbated by COVID-19: the inability to make, and transport products, causing stock numbers to be lower and sell out faster. This issue is actually an issue that designer brands previously struggled with, even before COVID-19, due to people’s purchase behaviour, and the way designers sell products.

Commonly, high-value products rely on exclusivity. Exclusive stock may be created as a one-off, with a limit on how many pieces made, which sell out quickly and often have a high amount of publicity surrounding them. Additionally, celebrities can cause a product to sell out within a few hours.

However, this can create high numbers of 404 pages, which also have high levels of traffic. Redirecting these pages to another page will be jarring for the user, and would remove the designer campaign page, which should be available to customers who need it. However, leaving 404 pages to accumulate is a signal to Google that the site is of low quality.

In conclusion

Despite COVID 19, luxury fashion is experiencing increased online interest, and luxury brands should consider investing in SEO to be visible to an expanded audience. 

A reduced physical store presence means luxury retail brands need to find a new way to reach their customers, and search volumes show that those customers are ready to be found online. A thorough and future-focused strategy is key to ensuring users searching for designer and luxury products are captured and converted; there has never been a better time to invest in digital for luxury brands.

Working with Ayima is about Performance, Technology, and Control; beyond best practice, every website needs a bespoke approach. If you would like to find out more about how Ayima can help you understand the behaviour of your customers in search, and how to help you drive more revenue, please contact our Head of New Business [email protected]

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