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Searchandising – What we can learn about site search from Brick and Mortar

Have you ever walked into a store only to realize that there is no rhyme or reason to its organization or layout?
Just last weekend I was trying to find a dress (last minute of course) for a friend’s wedding. The first store I entered was disorganized and there was no one to assist me. Frustrated, I moved on to the next store and, because of their layout and personal assistance, found what I was looking for very quickly.
Just as brick and mortar stores usually put a lot of thought into designing their stores to organize and showcase products in the best possible manner, online stores need to do the same. Creating a positive user experience during the site search process is a key to success online. Today, more than 30% of online shoppers utilize the site search box on an eCommerce website. Also, all online consumers are used to the ease, speed, and relevance of Google search and expect similar robustness during their online shopping activities.

A positive site search experience not only benefits consumers, but also benefits online retailers by increasing conversion rate, average order size, and brand loyalty. Also, the data that can be gathered via onsite search analytics can play a HUGE role in shaping marketing, merchandising, and product assortment activities.
Let’s start with the most basic principle of onsite search: HAVE IT! While extremely obvious, it is kind of crazy that there are still so many (and some big name) retailers that do not provide this tool to their shoppers. Once you have it, make sure your search box is obvious and offered on every page. Some sites utilize text in the search box to further help their browsers understand how they can search for products (keywords, brands, SKUs, etc.). The text disappears as the user clicks to enter their search.
It is becoming more common for sites to use auto-complete or auto-suggest tools to offer suggestions after a few characters have been entered into the search box. This speeds up the search process and helps avoid spelling errors, it also ensures that searches return relevant results. If a search does not return relevant results, the “did you mean” functionality can be used to get browsers back on track.
Relevant results, that are returned quickly, are critical to a positive site search experience. Also, utilizing the left pane navigation to provide further insight into product attributes, ensures that your browser is further down the path to a purchase. If someone is searching for something specific on your site, they have at least indicated some intent to purchase so let’s help them out and make that sale!
Beyond the data that onsite search analytics can provide, advanced search tools allow retailers to use site search and the results page to merchandise specific products. Maybe you want to highlight high-margin products, or to showcase brands that may be doing increased ad spend with you. The possibilities are endless. Maybe you have seasonal products, or products with expiration dates that you need to boost to the top of the search page to clear out of stock. Just as online retailers focus on creating promotions to drive sales in certain areas, more focus is being paid to the strategy of “boosting” search results to get the desired outcome. Site search is just as much a tool for the consumer as it is for the merchandiser.
To make a long story short, you can invest a lot in building a website and marketing efforts to drive traffic to it, but if you do not enable the consumer once they get there, they will leave your site and shop elsewhere. To my fellow online consumers – happy searching! To online retailers – happy “searchandising!” If you provide us consumers with a great search tool, we will provide you with invaluable data.

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Meagan Weas

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