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Beyond the search bar: advanced e-commerce search experiences

A simplistic, linear approach to search experience—a customer looking for a product in a search box or bar, then either adding to the cart or bouncing—has two downsides. For one thing, it feels restrictive to modern users who want holistic, personalized experiences. Secondly, it is costly. Businesses unable to offer inspiration through methods like browsing, navigation and advanced faceting miss out on conversion and retention opportunities.

Top retailers use search as a strategic tool, embracing, as Forrester puts it, “…a design thinking approach focused not on technology but on ease, effectiveness, and emotion.” This results in improved KPIs like conversion rates, stickiness, engagement, and increased basket size.

We’ll look at innovative ways in which technology can power creative search experiences and discovery for your users, and better business results for you.

Why advance site search: a quick look at the numbers

Respondents to the Internet Retailer KPIs & Site Search Survey, which asked 103 e-commerce companies about how site search impacts their KPIs, indicated that they are increasingly seeing the link between their site search and their top-line and bottom-line metrics.

We already know that site searchers are over 200% more likely to convert than regular visitors, but take a look at these statistics:

Statistics about advanced search experiences

Forrester’s recent report titled “Revamp Site Search To Jump-Start AI, Chat, And Personalization” confirms that “digital business leaders in healthcare, retail, financial services, and other industries must master the market forces and options for site search—or jeopardize the projected ROI of their investments.”

These are just some of the reasons why 88% of retailers large and small told Internet Retailer that advancing their search strategy is important. Let’s take a look at how to go about it.

Mastering the basics of search experience

Looking at the progression along the search maturity model, we see that 36% of retailers have already moved past the simplistic, transactional model of search in the box.

search maturity model

But before moving forward with advanced capabilities, search technology must first satisfy a few basics. Consumers “spoiled” by Google expect first and foremost an ultra-fast search bar that provides most relevant results.

There are three aspects of relevance that users have come to count on:

1. Textual relevance

The name of a product, its brand, keywords in the description—what we call attributes—make up textual relevance. Textual relevance means reading correctly into the user’s intent even if they misspelled a word or used a stop word (“the”, “and”, “at”, “with”…). It also means giving them a synonym result (offering a parka when they typed in “jacket”), and making sure that plurals are accounted for (searching for “feet warmers” should display foot warmers).

2. Business relevance

On the occasions when you want to promote certain products for, let’s say, a recent release or a holiday sale, you can influence the results a user sees using business relevance. You can leverage your own business metrics ensuring that the user sees content they are most likely to act on.

You could, for example, be tracking conversion rates on your products, and wanting to display first the result with the highest conversion rate.

3. Personalization

Personalized search experience is all about taking signals from your user: the conscious signals they are sending you by interacting with your user interface, and the more subconscious, latent signals coming from their past preference indications.

Multiple paths to conversion through advanced user experiences

Having covered the basics, let’s look at how progressive retailers provide advanced customer journeys past the simple: search bar > click > add to cart.

Offering multiple content types as search results

Cratejoy is an e-commerce website that makes it easy for users to subscribe to boxes of products they’ll love.

If a user types “planner” in Cratejoy’s search box, they can instantly choose a subscription, a category, a collection related to planners—or, if none of that works, dive into a blog post. This offers the user multiple paths into different types of content, which translates into multiple paths to conversion, based on user’s personal preferences and ways of processing information.

Cratejoy advanced search experience for e-commerce

Facets: filters with special intelligence

L’Occitane En Provence is an international retailer of body, face, fragrances and home products. Similarly to Cratejoy, their search is an as-you-type experience, but they have another interesting feature that showcases advanced search possibilities. Let’s say a user types in “baby” in the search box: on the left, facets will appear.

What exactly are facets? We are all familiar with filters as a way to narrow down our search result options. A facet is a filter that is intertwined with the result sets: the only facets that appear are the ones that match result sets. This prevents a “no result” type of screen experience, which almost universally causes users to bounce. Looking at our “baby” facets, we already know the number of items available in each category, together with the pricing.

If a user refines her search query to, let’s say, a “baby bath”, we see that the categories available to her have decreased, showing only applicable facets.

This means that in a few keystrokes and clicks, the user finds the very item they want. Compare this with a long list of items that comes with a standard search bar experience — by far superior.

From beyond the search bar to no search bar

Artsper, an arts buying and selling website, takes to heart the idea that search is not just about the search bar. Search technology rather powers the entire browse experience.

If a customer selects a “painting” category on the home page, products and facets are showing up—even though no search query is entered.

Artsper also includes recommended categories; a customer can easily dive into abstract paintings, for example, and just as easily remove that filter.

Artsper, an art website, offers discover without a search bar

Why is this so interesting? No search bar query by the user is involved, even though the search technology behind the scenes takes care of the engaging and natural customer experience, including ranking and personalized recommendations.

Imagining possibilities for e-commerce search experience

There are many other aspects of state-of-the-art search technologies that can advance the user experience and improve your business numbers: from recommendations and dynamic faceting to letting the users define the interface.

Learn more in our eBook: Search Beyond the Box: Innovative User Experiences for Improving E-commerce Conversion Rates

We hope to have inspired you to join top retailers in advancing user experiences through search capabilities that go beyond the search bar. Your users should enjoy powerful discovery through browsing, faceting, innovative UX, and much more, shortening their path to the shopping cart while driving your business results.

About the author
Ivana Ivanovic

Senior Content Strategist


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