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Amazon could very well be the great equalizer of online shoppers: no matter the customer’s income level or spending habits, nearly everyone ends up on Amazon at one point or another during their buyer’s journey. So what does that mean for the future role of social media and search engine marketing? The answer could lie in analyzing the shopping habits of different types of spenders. 

ClickZ recently conducted a survey, together with Catalyst, of 511 US-based shoppers from a wide range of socioeconomic, educational, and employment backgrounds. 

Content produced in collaboration with Catalyst.

The results revealed three types of shoppers — high, medium, and low spenders — with distinct shopping habits.

  • High spenders buy more than $2,500 worth of products online during a given month. 
  • Medium spenders buy anywhere from $100 to $2,500 online per month. 
  • Low spenders buy less than $100 of online products each month. 

breakdown of high medium and low spenders based on online purchases per month

While the online behaviors of each group vary widely, one thing is true across every segment: the way we search for products to buy online is rapidly changing. Here are a few of the report’s key findings.

High spenders have different shopping habits

Perhaps predictably, high spenders tend to shop online more frequently than low spenders. They also use a much more diverse array of channels. While low spenders primarily stick to channels like Amazon and Google, high spenders tend to be much more likely to use social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, for shopping. 

where high spenders versus low spenders prefer to purchase online

In fact, high spenders actually seem to prefer making purchases on YouTube over Amazon, while Cortana, which is powered by Bing, is every bit as important to them as Google. High spenders are also using visual and voice search for purchasing goods and say their interest in those channels will most likely increase over the next five years, while low spenders very rarely tend to use those channels. 

While it would seem to make logical sense that low spenders would use more of their time comparing prices, the study found that actually, the opposite is true. High spending shoppers spend much more time on price comparison sites than low spending shoppers, which could be a result of high spenders having greater digital literacy than low spenders. 

Amazon matters for all types of spenders

And though Amazon might be outstripped by YouTube in the shopping preferences of high spenders, all categories of spenders are using Amazon, albeit in different ways. Low spenders tend to use Amazon throughout every part of their buyers’ journey: discovery, research, and purchase. However, while high spenders may begin their journey on Amazon, they are just as likely to make their final purchase through YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram. 

For many consumers, Amazon has outpaced search engines when it comes to research and discover. Its algorithms, already attuned to customers’ buying habits often suggest the perfect product before the customer even knows they need it. Amazon user reviews have also become a critical part of all spenders’ research phases. Almost 64 percent of respondents used Amazon for research regardless of where they first discovered a product, and 68 percent said they had visited Amazon to research, compare, and purchase goods, up from 50 percent last year.

where consumers discover, research, compare, and purchase online goods

Many marketers still see Amazon as a marketplace, listing their products but failing to focus on search marketing for the platform. But for buyers of all spending types, Amazon search has become a crucial part of the final purchase decision.  

The role of search is changing 

And as customers increasingly use Amazon to discover new products, the role of search engines in the buyer’s journey is rapidly changing. ClickZ and Catalyst’s research found that this year, search has fallen behind both ecommerce and social channels when it comes to discovering new products. And both low and medium spenders say that search engines will most likely wane in importance over the next five years. 

But that does not mean that search no longer matters. Instead, Catalyst’s research strongly indicates that the role of search is simply changing. This year, most respondents were using search engines for research and comparing prices, whereas they are increasingly relying on Amazon and social media for discovery and purchases. 

In order to prepare for this shift, marketers would do well to consider and strategize for the research aspects of search alongside discovery and purchase. 

As customers become more familiar with products before they begin using search engines, marketers should focus on branded queries for shoppers who are increasingly turning to Google and Cortana in order to compare specific brands against their competitors. Optimizing for branded queries could very well be the future of  . 

For more information about how different spenders are using search for discovery, research, and purchases, download ClickZ and Catalyst’s white paper “Know Your Audience: Understanding Today’s Online Shoppers.”

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