When it comes to plotting your online approach, the data needs to be parsed very carefully.

This story first appeared in the October 9, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That’s the message from Martin McNulty, chief executive officer of Forward 3D, a digital agency that helps fashion players such as Gucci and Mr Porter make sense of marketing online.

McNulty used his presentation to focus on “what consumers actually do, rather than what we think they might do,” and offered some examples of how shoppers’ online behavior can confound. His presentation drew on search data from around the world and on the company’s work across 42 markets. Forward 3D sees 9.5 million digital interactions each day, including search results, display ads and social media posting.

“The intent of users still isn’t obvious even in a channel like search, where people type stuff in, you still don’t know what people actually want,” McNulty said. “Eighty-two percent of people who buy a mainline product didn’t search for the product they bought.”

This makes it hard to only buy search terms tied to products retailers have in stock, because people meander so much when they hit the Web.

“All you should really be looking at is the [return on investment] that those terms generate regardless of whether or not it’s for a product that you actually carry,” McNulty said of search terms.

And given the money brands put into driving Web traffic, there’s plenty of reason to analyze how different types of shoppers behave. According to McNulty’s research of shoppers who were drawn by clicks paid for by brands, online consumers averaged 7.4 paid clicks before they actually made a purchase.

“What’s slightly terrifying is that 45 percent of women in our data set needed at least 12 paid clicks in order to transact,” he said. “That’s a big number. That’s expensive.”

Half of men consummated their purchases with six paid clicks, while women required nine paid clicks. Despite this difference, McNulty said most brands create a uniform experience for women and men.

“Men’s pages will have men’s stuff on them, but the purchase flow is no different, it’s exactly the same,” he said. “Why is that? We know that women will spend a longer period of time in consideration. Why do we give people exactly the same retail experiences?”

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