If you’re a Halloween costume retailer, which costumes do you need to make sure to keep in stock? Are politician masks still popular? What about superhero costumes? Nurses, kittens, firefighters, princesses, ghosts, or vampires – if you want to run a successful store, you’ve got to stock what people want and avoid what people don’t.
The same goes for coffee shops offering pastry selections and yoga instructors offering types of classes. Yes, you can just pick what worked last year – if a lot of people order chocolate-chip cookies, it’s a good idea to keep them in stock – but at some point you need to be looking at current customer needs, not just previous choices.
To do that, you need to understand search.
Predictive Search Predicts What Customers Want
When the average person starts typing a search term into a Google, Bing, or Yahoo search bar, a few things happen.
First, the search engine attempts to predict what the customer is looking for. If you start typing the words “yoga workout,” for example, Google gives you a drop down menu that includes “yoga workout videos” and “yoga workout for beginners.” Continue with the words “yoga workout clothes,” and Google changes the menu to “yoga workout clothes for men” and “yoga workout clothes for women” while simultaneously updating its search page to include links from Reebok, Lululemon, and other retailers.
What does that mean for you, as a retailer? It means that you can use the same tools your customers do – the predictive search bar – to find out what they’re looking for. Predictive search bars caught on to the gluten-free baking trend long before every bakery knew to include gluten-free cookies in its store window. Predictive search bars will tell you whether more people are searching “San Francisco yoga bikram” or “San Francisco yoga prenatal.” (The key is in the order the search terms are presented.)
If you’re that Halloween retailer, you need a collection of Halloween search terms like the ones presented in this infographic. That way you’ll know that searches for ninja and Power Ranger costumes are up this year, while searches for Disney costumes are down.
Predictive Search Tells You What Customers Are Learning
The next important part of predictive search is that it tells you what customers are learning. For example: people who search “prenatal yoga” are likely to find several articles about yoga and maternal health. Nearly all of them are going to read one of the first five search links. They’re then going to carry that information with them to your yoga studio.
To be a successful business, you need to understand what customers are already learning about your product or service. You need to know the most popular image that shows up when you search “Power Ranger Halloween costume,” and make sure you have that exact costume in stock. You need to be prepared to combat misinformation, such as customers who erroneously believe that gluten-free chocolate chip cookies are low calorie, simply because a popular web article implied that gluten-free equals weight loss.
Predictive Search Helps With Analytics
You can take the time to search every possible predictive search term yourself, or you can hire a company to run predictive search analytics for you. Predictive analytics for online retailers has many benefits, including inventory planning, new product development, and even upcoming boosts in sales.
When moms get tired of making Sneaky Chef recipes at home and start looking for local bakeries that sell spinach brownies, you want to be the first sweet shop on the block offering vegetable desserts. When all the young people in your neighborhood start having kids, you want to be the yoga studio with prenatal classes. When a new internet meme hits the works, you want to be the only Halloween store selling a Grumpy Cat costume.
In short: learn what your customers are searching for and you’ll learn what you need to sell. And to do that, you need to understand predictive search.