Professor Snape looked up at the class. “You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of merchandising on retailers’ websites,” he began. “As there is little foolish brand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe it’s just about managing your retailers to get some basics working in your favour.”
“Potter,” said Snape suddenly. “What would I get if I added sodium lauryl sulphate to an infusion of powdered glycol distearate?”
“I don’t know,” said Harry quietly. “I think Hermione does, though, why don’t you try her?”
“Sit down,” he snapped at Hermione, whose hand had shot into the air. “For your information, Potter, they are two of the main ingredients of shampoo.”
Ron eyed Snape’s lank greasy locks, and sniggered.
“Five points will be taken from Gryffindor,” snarled Snape. “And since you appear to find it so amusing, Mr Weasley, why don’t you take out your tablet now, and try to find some online appropriate to your needs?”
He waved his wand and the search term “men’s shampoo” appeared on the blackboard. “The majority of consumers that don’t simply enter the brand name itself will use a generic search term of this type before trying to browse the site hierarchy,” he observed. “Come on, come on, what are you all waiting for?”
Feeling that a pharmacy site would be safe place to start without attracting Snape’s attention any further, Harry started on the Superdrug website. The results were baffling. Ron looked over his shoulder and sniggered again. “Sweet Snuggles set of 3 lip balms! Were you looking for something, err, special Harry?”
Snape swooped down on them. “Inevitably Potter,” he spat, “you’ve managed to start looking on a site that doesn’t maintain its search dictionary synonyms and stemming properly.” Disdainfully he removed the apostrophe, changing men’s to mens, tapped the screen, and shampoos magically appeared.
“What opportunities does that give us, Mr Malfoy?”
“As a brand, we could influence the static link from the term men’s shampoo to jump to a page pre-filtered for our brand, sir,” replied Malfoy with a cunning look.
“We could indeed, Mr Malfoy. Ten points to Slytherin. What else do we notice?”
Hermione’s hand shot up again. “No one?” demanded Snape, deliberately not glancing at her.
“The products are listed in alphabetic order,” squealed Hermione.
“I don’t remember asking you to speak, Miss Grainger. However this is indeed the case.”
“What does that mean, Mr Malfoy?”
“That you’re pretty unhappy if you you’re Toni & Guy, sir?”
“Another ten points to Slytherin. Indeed you are. Well over 50% of add-to-carts from brand-agnostic customers will come from items listed in the first row of products in response to a generic search term.”
“So these other brands should be trying to get Superdrug to change its default sort-order then sir?”
“They should indeed. ‘Relevance’ or ‘top-sellers’ are more reasonable defaults. Possibly better still they could arrange for a product-placement at the top of this page.”
“You mean kind of like on Asda?” asked Ron, who had been experimenting on his tablet.
“Idiot boy,” snarled Snape. “Can’t you see they just aren’t managing their search properly? That isn’t a placement, it’s an opportunity. For what, Mr Malfoy?”
“To include the words ‘Mens Shampoo’ in our product title, sir?”
“Ten points to Slytherin. Exactly, Mr Malfoy. This site-search appears to only take the words in the product title as a literal term. Only this particular product in their range includes the two successive words ‘men shampoo’ in its title,” observed Snape.
“So if we want to increase sales on Asda, we just get our product titles amended sir?”
“Indeed we do. Shall we see how that might turn out, Mr Potter?”
“Where sir?” asked Harry, very confused. Hermione’s hand shot up again.
“Take a look at the Tesco grocery site everybody,” replied Snape, ignoring her as usual.
“Here’s how it should work,” resumed Snape. “You will observe that any product that includes the word men and the word shampoo in its product title is appearing in the results.”
“How does it decide what comes top then?” demanded Ron.
“That information, Mr Weasley, is known only to the retailer. Unless, of course, Mr Malfoy…?”
“We ask them, sir?”
“Ten points to Slytherin. Indeed Mr Malfoy. We ask them. What do we ask them, Mr Potter?”
“Errr, what generic search terms consumers use on their site and what factors apart from the words appearing in the product title drive the results-ranking, sir?”
“It seems you are finally learning something in my classes, Mr Potter,” sneered Snape. “How do you think this one works then?” With a swipe of his hand, Snape showed the Boots site.
“By magic, sir?” hazarded Harry.
“Tut tut – fame clearly isn’t everything.”
Harry tried not to look at Malfoy who was shaking with laughter.
“As you can all see,” continued Snape loudly over the noises of Slytherin mirth, “retailer site search is an area that the skilled and cunning brand can manipulate to its advantage with surprisingly little effort. Some simple adjustments to absolute basics such as product data, combined with speaking to the retailer about a few specifics such as static links, can drive a significant sales uplift.”
“For homework tonight, I want each of you to select a retailer website and brand, use this tool to benchmark it”
“Bring three scrolls of parchment suggesting how you could make some simple adjustments to ensure your chosen brand features more prominently on the retailer’s site than its close competitors.”