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How retailers can use Google Trends to inform product mix strategies

Written by Spencer Durrant on February 9, 2016 in Strategies & Tips

7306147244_c6a3aaa025_o.pngFor online retailers who are new to the game, finding the right mix of products can be one of ecommerce's most challenging aspects. How can you ensure that you're listing popular products that your customers want to buy? 

There's one simple answer that all online retailers can - and should - use: Google Trends. In this post, we'll go over how to use Google Trends to inform your product mix strategies. 

What is Google Trends?

Google Trends is a free, powerful tool that offers a wealth of search data that's probably unmatched. The only other service I've found that offers comparable help in terms of tracking trends is Buzzsumo, but full access to that platform is more than most just-starting or smaller retailers will be willing to pay.

Google Trends lets you search any keyword - topic, product, service, event, etc. - and see the trend for that particular phrase over time. You can even go all the way back to 2004 to see how much interest has grown or declined for a particular phrase. 

For eample, look at how interest has grown over time for smartphones: 

Screenshot_2016-02-02_at_1.18.39_PM.png

This screenshot shows data from 2004-2016, and you can set the graph to show any custom date range you want. It's an incredibly helpful tool to track the popularity of a given product at any given time.

Related Content: How to manage your long-tail product assortment (free PDF download)

Understanding the metrics

This is where things can get a bit hairy if you don't understand how Google scores a search term on their trend charts.

When hovering your mouse over the chart, you'll see a number next to the given date: 

Screenshot_2016-02-02_at_2.18.51_PM.png

According to Google, that number doesn't represent the total amount of searches for that term for that date (and this is an obvious example, because it's almost impossible that the phrase "smartphones" was only searched in Google 100 ties in September 2014); rather, the numbers represent the, "search interest relative to the highest point on the chart. If at most 10% of searches for a given region and time frame were for pizza, we'd consider this 100. That doesn't convey absolute search volume."

It's also important to note that, "A line trending downward means that a search term's relative popularity is decreasing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the total number of searches for that term is decreasing. It just means its popularity is decreasing compared to other searches."

For example, the popularity of "funny cat videos" was rated at a "31" on Google Trends for October 2011 - right when the holiday shopping season kicks off. Coincidentally, "Halloween decorations" was an 80 for October 2011. So if you search for a term relative to products you're selling and you see a downward line, that's not necessarily cause for alarm - take into account what other events may be going on that are attracting the bulk of searches on Google before giving up on a product.

It's also worth noting that you can customize trend search results by region, time, and even see related searches and their rankings.

Informing your strategy

Now that you know how to understand the information Google Trends provides, how do you use that to inform your product strategy in 2016?

Real-time trend tracking

The first, and most obvious benefit of using Google Trends to inform your product mix strategies is that you can see real-time trends for products - in any geographic location, at any time of day. You can compare how a certain product or product-related phrase was trending in February 2015 as compared to February 2016 to see if there's been an increased or decreased interested in a certain niche or product.

Helps you reduce the risk of introducing new products 

When expanding your product assortment, there's always the risk that whatever new products you add aren't going to resonate with your audience. Even if a product is a great fit for your niche, there's no way to guarantee that the new product will sell.

But with Google Trends, you can see whether or not a product (or its general category) is increasing or decreasing in search volume. More specifically, you can customize the reports to see how customers in your niche are responding to that particular product. 

For example, say you're running an outdoors store and you want to introduce a new high-end tent to your catalog. The tent is expensive, sold by Brand X, and is targeted towards "hard-core" sportsmen. With Google Trends, you can see exactly how that tent by Brand X is trending across the world, or in specific locations that you think are more likely to spend money on expensive tents - Vail, Denver, Glenwood Springs, Portland, Bend, Missoula, and Idaho Falls are just a few examples of cities where a fancy tent like that will sell well, and you can get all that information from Google Trends. 

Discover under-utilized product categories

Another way you can use Google Trends to improve your online store's assortment is by searching for underutilized product categories within your niche. 

Going back to the above-mentioned hypothetical outdoors store, I recently came across an incredible new product. It's a solar-powered inflatable lantern. 

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Photo from Amazon.com

This lantern has solar panels on the bottom (where the lights are) and it inflates like a beachball. It casts light in a pretty good circle, and is perfect for tent camping because it's light and hangs from the ceiling of your tent. I don't have the exact model pictured above, but one very similar to it. I'm an avid sportsman. I write about fly fishing in my spare time for seven different publications and I hadn't heard about this awesome lantern until two days ago when my grandmother (also a seasoned outdoor enthusiast) gave me one. 

Sure enough, searches for "inflatable lantern" just barely started appearing mid-2015. Overall volume is somewhat low, but the dramatic rise of the term suggests that this product and its competitors are catching on and will only increase in popularity.

google-trends-inflatable-lantern.png

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that all the products in your niche have been discovered. I've just given a prime example of how that's clearly not the case. If you get creative with your searches on Google Trends, you're sure to find a product category that isn't currently being sold in high volume by other shops in your niche. 

Where this can get tricky is if you find products but you don't have a supplier who can provide those products for you. In this case, dropshipping is a great way to get quick, easy access to those products without the risk of buying bulk inventory. 

We have a free whitepaper,"The Retailer's Guide to Dropshipping," that helps retailers navigate this exact scenario - finding, testing, and selling new products. Click the banner below to get your copy. 

retailer's guide to dropshipping

Photo courtesy Gruppenwissen.

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