Luke Mckend, Google SA country director. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG - It’s that time of year again, when retailers kick their festive season campaigns into high gear and consumers ramp up their efforts to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones.

Annually, search retail queries increase steadily before Christmas with notable upticks before Black Friday, on Cyber Monday and Boxing Day. Internal Google data shows that customers are prepared to spend more in the festive season and they are less brand loyal than usual either because they are looking for the best deals or for a specific product on someone’s gift list. Sixty-four percent of South African shoppers are open to using new retailers and 52% consider more than one brand prior to purchase, according to the 2017 Connected Consumer Survey.

For retailers, their biggest opportunity to drive online sales is now. Thirty percent of total annual retail queries in South Africa happen in the festive season, and we’re seeing a 43% year on year increase in retail queries on mobile.

This makes sense when you consider that people don’t go online anymore. We live online. We are in the midst of the largest shift in consumer behavior since the introduction of the web itself. Every day billions of people around the globe are living out their lives across multiple screens and devices. Our phones, which were once simple devices for making calls, today are more like personal assistants. The average smartphone owner checks their device more than 100 times a day, two thirds of mobile phone users sleep with their phones by their beds.

And what this means is that our constant connectivity translates to more opportunities than ever before for brands to connect with consumers in meaningful ways.

According to 2016 research from IPSOS in South Africa, 82% of smartphone users have used their phones to get more information on a product or service before purchasing. Online shoppers look for very specific types of information too. Fifty-six percent look for price, 25% look for promotions, deals, sales, 21% look for availability at a location and 16% search for business hours.

Forty percent of the traffic to the top 100 South African shopping websites comes from Google search. Local searches on mobile devices are growing 100% year on year. In other words South African consumers are increasingly searching for information on products or services near them so that they can conveniently purchase once they’ve made a decision.

Mobile has also eased pressure for shoppers - 60% purchase in store based on information they’d searched for in advance on their mobiles. The 2017 Connected Consumer Survey shows that 2.5m South Africans shop online and an Effective Measure study shows that 80% of South Africans would be willing to collect their purchase from the store.

South Africans this year will be going online to search for deals from local retailers and retailers need to ensure they are there, with product, price and location information if they are to fully benefit from increased festive season spend. With tools like Google Shopping - which lets retailers advertise products at the top of a search results page - and a host of other display advertising opportunities at their disposal, retailers have any number of ways to ensure they are top of mind with consumers this year.

Luke Mckend is the Google SA country director.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.