The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Retail eCommerce And ‘Time To Relevance’

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For the last several years, RSR has conducted studies that compare retailers’ website performance (click here to download a free copy of this year’s results). As part of that, we asked consumers to answer a few questions about how tolerant (or otherwise) they are to slow websites. In the new study, something jumped out at us – the vast majority of consumers don’t start their digital shopping journeys with the retailer (Figure 1):

While it’s not a revelation that many consumers start with a Google search, what was a surprise was the scale of it. But in a new study published this week entitled Winning At Customer Acquisition In The Digital Shopping Age, here’s how our retailer respondents responded to the same question:

The disconnect between what consumers say and what retailers think is a little breathtaking. For one thing, notice the difference between consumer and retailer responses, re. Amazon! But whether consumers start on Amazon or on Google, one thing is really clear: regardless of who is actually right, retailers are losing out on the opportunity to “own” the interaction from the very first click.

The new report highlights that retailers believe that “acquiring new site traffic” is the E-Commerce site’s top priority, and to that end retailers have been leaning on organic search result optimization (SEO) or pay-per-click search prioritization (SEM) for years.  In fact, a whopping 98% of retailers in the study agreed that “We rely on other strategies in addition to SEO/SEM to get traffic to our site”.  But almost the same number of retailers (95%) indicated that “Our acquisition strategy is effective however we have a high bounce rate once shoppers reach our site”.

What are we supposed to make of this? RSR’s take is that retailers underestimate how important “relevance” has become to consumers. Compare it to a store journey; in this day and age, consumers increasingly don’t want to search big boxes and huge selections just to get to the products they already know they want (by virtue of their digital searches) – they want to get directly to what they DO want.  That’s “relevance”.  The same thing should be true of the E-Commerce experience.

Too many retailers make consumers work too hard to get to the right solution to their lifestyle needs. A perfect example can be seen in many websites; the consumer is asked to walk through the merchandise hierarchy to get to the best product information page to suit the need. To prove this point to myself, I went to this year’s top performing website, J.Crew. Sure enough, the top navigation line starts the consumer with these navigation buttons: New, Women, Men, Kids, Lounge, Cashmere, Coats, and Sale. J.Crew makes it interesting with great graphics and “recommended for you” links, and (of course) the site itself is fast, but basically the shopper has to climb though the hierarchy to get to a product.

The question is, how can retailers get the attention of consumers enough so that the website is the first destination, not the second or third one?  That takes a whole new way of thinking. Faster “time to relevance” has to be the goal, not “acquiring new website traffic”.  Consumers are smart – and impatient. As fast as the technology can enable, retailers must be able to glean a consumer’s intent and respond to it. The good news is that (1) consumers leave lots of digital clues that can help, and (2) new AI-enabled capabilities are available to help the website identify the “next best action”. 

Read The Report

RSR’s new report on the state of retail E-Commerce, entitled Winning At Customer Acquisition In The Digital Shopping Age, tries to answer the question, “what compelling value can retailers offer via their E-commerce platform that will cause consumers to go there and remain there, as opposed to one of the mega-retailers that have successfully reduced the value proposition to one of low price and convenience?

The new report, sponsored by Coveo, features 24 charts and concludes with a number of pragmatic recommendations for moving forward. As always, our benchmark research reports are free to you!  For the latest RSR report, and all of our research, please visit

Newsletter Articles January 25, 2022