I consider myself to be a fairly typical shopper. My time is precious so I tend to go online to find what I need, compare the options according to my preferences and make a choice that fits my budget. In the process, I may also buy related products if they catch my attention. Finally, I check out and choose direct delivery, or find a local store for collection if I want to take a look at the 'real thing' before fully committing to my purchase.
This all involves making lots of choices and can be time-consuming, so I always appreciate some onsite guidance, otherwise I will likely go elsewhere. In other words, I require the services of a virtual personal shopping assistant to help me make decisions simply and quickly.
In this series of three blog posts, we examine how online retailers can provide this essential service digitally by using the right technology. We'll be looking at the following key areas:
- Tailoring search session preferences
- Why astute merchandising will set you apart
- Choosing the best technology
Part1: Tailoring Search Session Preferences
How Do Shoppers Search?
Let's start with the not so good news, at least for retailers. When shoppers know what they are looking for, more start by searching Amazon than search engines or directly on a retailer's website – and this figure has increased significantly over the past few years.
The most likely reason is that Amazon outperforms other retailers on every level - the breadth of its product catalogue, one click purchase and next day delivery. It's also because trawling through search engines requires more effort and many retailers have poor site search. Often, products are more expensive on Amazon but because the experience is so quick and effortless, shoppers overlook this.
The search function is a gateway to a retailer's website. If it is fully optimized and takes the effort out of shopping, then the consumer will feel confident about the entire site, which means they will be more likely to shop with that retailer and come back again rather than diverting via Amazon.
Why Do Shoppers Search Onsite?
If a shopper arrives at a retail website and knows exactly what they want, they will almost automatically opt to use the search function. This may be traditional text search, a voice-activated request or perhaps they'll upload an image. Whatever type of search tool they use, they will expect to find the item quickly and easily.
If the customer is unsure precisely what they are after but opts to use search, they will typically start by browsing a category of products and refine their search by selecting items that match their preferences. The more relevant the results, the more likely they are to explore further and eventually choose a product. This is the retailer's opportunity to tap into their intent.
So what drives those choices, and which strategies should a retailer use to tailor session preferences?
Using Search to Anticipate a Shopper's Needs
It all comes down to relevance. Using accumulated knowledge of gender, age, size and style orientation together with recent choices from previous visits, the retailer can refine a customer's search to achieve a closer match. Presenting a number of price options helps indicate budget, and if the search is not too specific the retailer might make suggestions based on past purchases by shoppers with similar requirements - this approach can be used with new shoppers where personal data is unavailable. If the customer is still uncertain, they might be open to alternative product ideas, promotions and special offers.
Why Search Functionality Matters - For Shopper and Retailer
Online sales skyrocket when retailers help customers find what they are looking for. Conversion rates for journeys involving onsite search have been proven to be three to four times higher than those that don't involve the search box.
For shoppers, it's all about the experience. If retailers integrate a good search function into their website, visitors will hang about, fine tune their search and spend more time onsite. For example, fast fashion retailer PrettyLittleThing saw a 10% conversion rate for customers who used search. They also spent four times longer onsite. So, when retailers offer a better-than-good search service - one that throws up extremely relevant results for their customers - clicks can turn into conversions.
We know this is not new information. eConsultancy published a report in 2010 on site search which highlighted its pivotal role in the sales funnel. Incidentally, at that time only one in 10 of the companies which participated in that survey had an individual employee or team solely dedicated to implementing and managing site search technology. And a whopping 37% of retailers used free search technology.
Since then, onsite search technology has seen exceptional levels of development, with a wide range of specialist tools available to retailers. We'll look at how to choose the best technology in our third and final blog, and for further information on onsite search, download our new white paper, 'Are you giving onsite search the attention it deserves?.'
Next week, in Part 2 of our blog series, find out how retailers can use merchandising technology to set themselves apart from their competitors.