By Thierry Costa, VP of Marketing, SLI Systems
It wasn’t long ago that you could do a broad-brush upgrade of technologies and features on your e-Commerce site and then leave it alone for a year or more. That approach no longer works, as retail technology innovation occurs at a much quicker pace — and user requirements for a superior experience have grown right along with it.
While Google has long impacted shoppers’ e-Commerce search expectations (meaning, the search giant’s fast return of relevant results and ability to break down results into categories has shaped the way people like to search e-Commerce sites) more recently, other influences have been at work. Social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube are impacting people’s expectations for both the overall shopping experience and the type of information they expect to see. For instance, consumers now want to easily find opinions and product ratings from other shoppers to help inform their buying decisions. They also like the ability to choose certain types of information to see in search results, such as product descriptions, social media content or videos.
While staying abreast of the latest trends is critical to online retail success, it’s a challenge to know all the latest and greatest e-Commerce features and understand how to implement them on your site. To help shed some light, here’s a short overview of new items to consider adding to site search to meet the needs of your visitors.
1. Socialize your site search. Your customers are likely avid users of social networking sites — and even if they’re not, they can still benefit by seeing content from blog posts, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and others. By enhancing your site search to include this material, you bring a greater wealth of information about your products and services to your visitors, and help inform their purchasing decisions. To see an example of this, look at Yarn.com and conduct a search. You’ll see tabs for “search results” and “social media” on the results page.
2. Categorize site search results. Site visitors are accustomed to seeing search results divided into categories. On your own site you can categorize site search results so shoppers can easily see just results that are product listings, or only results that are videos, or just results that include some type of social media content. You should also create additional appropriate categories based on your metadata and the content you have on your own site. You can see these types of categories in search results by conducting a search at Steiner Tractor.
3. Bring ratings and reviews into search results. Most retailers now offer the capability for customers to rate and review products they purchase. If you’re one of those companies, give these ratings even more impact by adding them to site search results — and then allow site visitors to refine results based on reviews (for instance, enabling them to see only products with a particular rating). Jelly Belly is one retail site that offers this capability.
4. Mobilize your site search. Visitors to mobile retail sites are usually “hunting” for specific information rather than “browsing,” and the search box is key to that experience. As you develop or enhance your M-commerce strategy, make sure site search is the focal point of your mobile site — and keep it fast, simple and relevant. For example, don’t bog down the results pages with lots of graphics and images that take time to load, and make sure the information that’s presented is highly relevant (i.e. showing user ratings is useful and doesn’t take up extra space). You can easily include other useful information like store locations and product availability. Walgreens.com has done a great job with their mobile-optimized web site and mobile app.
5. Enhance your site search with Rich Auto Complete. Rich Auto Complete is a powerful feature that’s easy to add and takes the search experience to a new level, by making it easier for visitors to see items that match their search term before they’ve even finished typing. Similar to standard auto-complete, which shows suggestions for search terms as soon as visitors start typing, Rich Auto Complete goes a step further and shows a pop-up box with products, images and other useful information that match the suggested search terms, so visitors can easily click on an item they might be interested in without searching or navigating further. To see Rich Auto Complete in action, visit eVitamins and start typing a search term into the search box.
To succeed in online commerce retailers must continually innovate and enhance their web storefronts to keep up with shopper demands. And while it’s a challenge to keep up with the pace of change, don’t leave it to your competitors to do the work and reap the rewards for you.
As VP of marketing, 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. He is an experienced marketing veteran with strong marketing, product marketing and product management experience, and has served in senior marketing positions for several leading technology companies, including InQuira, a provider of natural language search and knowledge management software, and E-commerce platform provider BroadVision. Before joining SLI, Costa was VP of Marketing for Exaprotect, a security software company, and VP of Marketing for Reportive. He started his career at Hewlett-Packard, where he was responsible for bringing to market HP’s security products and Data Warehousing solutions.