Research shows that visitors to your site who use the search box will convert at two to three times the rate of those who don’t. To get an even greater boost from search users, you can take several extra steps to deliver a more personalized experience tailored to a visitor’s device of choice. By doing so, not only may performance metrics go higher, but a more personalized experience usually leads to greater engagement. This increases the likelihood that customers will become repeat buyers, recommend your site to their friends, and even post items about you on social networks.
Search personalization is a logical approach, given the many other ways retailers already are delivering more customized encounters; these include localization, links to social media, and the virtual “personal shoppers” who know visitors’ brand preferences, purchasing histories and personal styles.
For smartphone and tablet users, there are special steps you can take to tailor the shopping and searching experience to the consumer’s particular device.
Here are tips for approaching search personalization and customization to generate more conversions and increase customer loyalty:
- Allow for brand/product preference selection: Many retailers offer large and varied product inventories, which are hard to explore and find a desired item. To make it easier for customers to narrow down the choices they see when they search your site, allow them to see their personal brand and product preferences so they don’t need to re-enter information, and will see only items in those personalized categories. Cruiser Customizing, a motorcycle parts and accessories web site, takes this approach: it allows shoppers to pre-select their motorcycles’ make and model so that site searches only yield items suitable for that particular bike.
Localize site search results: With expanding use of mobile devices for online research and purchasing, consumers appreciate being presented with information that’s tailored to their locations. This approach also can be applied to site search results: you can ask shoppers to enter their addresses or zip codes as they search so they see only those results relevant to their locations. You also can include a list of physical store locations where products can be picked up (if applicable), and which shoppers can check for available stock.
Since stock information can vary in different locales, tractor and lawnmower retailer Tractor Supply, for example, asks visitors for their zip codes as soon as they come to site’s home page, then delivers product availability and pricing based on location. This strategy can be taken a step further by including merchandising banners on search results pages to highlight promotions or special offers in visitors’ specific regions.
Provide search history: Show each customer’s recent searches or search history as a way to say “welcome back.” Similar to a product wish list, a list of previous searches helps shoppers discover items in which they were interested, so they don’t have to remember the search terms they used previously. Floral retailer FTD.com shows previous search terms when visitors return to the site and click on the search icon next to the search box, listing “Recent Searches” above the refinement options. For example, if someone searches for “birthday bouquets,” the term “birthday bouquets” will appear when the shopper comes back to FTD.com.
Include social network activities: Many web sites allow visitors to use their Facebook profiles as their account logins, which enables visitors to see who in their social networks may have “liked” or commented on a product. As this integration with social media becomes more sophisticated, retailers soon can allow visitors to sort search results based on how many of their Facebook connections have “liked” a product, or show products that specific Facebook connections have recommended. Also, as Pinterest gains in popularity, we’re seeing retailers incorporate the number of ‘pins’ into search, showing visitors if items in search results have been pinned to their friends’ personal pinboards. Artbeads.com is a good example: The online beads and jewelry-making accessories retailer allows searchers to pin items to their own pinboards directly from search results.
Personalize by device: With so many people shopping on computers, tablets and smartphones, it’s a nice touch when you adjust the experience based on the device they’re using, and perhaps even location. This goes beyond delivering mobile-friendly search ― it’s about delivering different pieces of information for users depending on that device platform or location. For instance, site visitors could be shown merchandising banners that highlight past activity or purchases via that device; or, they could see local content such as store addresses and promotions when they log in to your site from a mobile or tablet device. With today’s geolocation technologies, it’s much easier for online brands to personalize visits from a location standpoint.
In addition, because so many people actually shop with mobile devices while inside your physical store, be sure to offer free Wi-Fi; shoppers will appreciate the ability to search and browse quickly from inside your store, given that cellular networks often are slow and congested.
Just as with in-person shopping experiences, personal touches provided online ― whether in search results or other web site pages ― help shoppers feel more connected, and give them all the more reason to shift from “browse” to “buy.”
Thierry Costa is responsible for SLI Systems’ global marketing efforts as well as driving growth of SLI’s search technology and services in the e-Commerce and publishing industries.