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For retail teams, there’ll be nothing normal — not even “new normal”  — this holiday season. US e-commerce saw a 10 year growth in the first 3 months of this year, and some of our customers saw over 600% increase in search queries.

ecommerce-growth-2020-chart

The goal of this blog post is to give you an actionable check list so you can:

1) avoid site abandonment due to no-search results or other search mishaps and
2) profit from what promises to be an extraordinary holiday season for those at the ready.

Don’t let search be a cause of downtime

You got all your e-commerce systems at the ready: digital payments, CRM, order processing, CMS… just to fail over at the point where your customers need you the most: finding or discovering that perfect holiday gift.

Whether you handle your own search infrastructure or trust a search provider, you should make sure your systems are ready to handle what promise to be tremendous load increases. Some of our own best practices:

  • Prioritize search traffic over indexing to deliver the fastest results to customers
  • Deploy additional hardware to areas of increased traffic when sustained spikes in usage occur
  • Automatically degrade query processing time to handle a greater load for a limited spike in usage

Get your search omnichannel-ready

Omnichannel shoppers spend more and shop twice as often. Even before COVID struck Europe and the Americas, 66% of internet users used a mobile phone or tablet to buy, and there’s been a +165% YoY use of smart speakers and voice assistants to make purchases.

Building mobile experiences means much more than having a responsive website. For instance, many of the difficulties on the mobile platform come from the extreme limitation of display space.

Cost of poor mobile performance

A common mistake is wanting to display all the data at hand like you would on a desktop. Start by understanding how shoppers browse your catalog. For example, for items that are selected visually, like shoes or clothes, you could present search results as enlarged pictures.

Mobile search results example

For more tips on mobile UX, check out this in-depth guide.

Conversational search — the process of interacting with technology and getting responses in the form of a natural conversation — serves as a conduit for contextually relevant and personalized interactions. While this opens up a world of new possibilities for how people shop, successful voice search is fundamentally more challenging compared to traditional text search. It requires significantly higher degrees of relevance, and results must be delivered at what appears to the consumer as speed of thought, mimicking the pace and style at which natural language conversations occur.

For more on building great omnichannel search and discovery, check out this guide.

In short: it is critical that your search and discovery be seamless across channels. 

Keep inventory up to date

Despite retailers adapting to the initial stock inventory shocks of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place, stocks will continue to be volatile because consumption patterns and additional individual purchases shift faster than the manufacturing and supply chain can adjust. Some stock items will inevitably sell out, others be in higher demand than anticipated. This may cause the dreaded “item sold out” screen, not only causing your customers to bounce, but also wasting screen real estate for products that won’t generate any sales.

The volume and frequency of transactions during the holiday season may mean millions of updates to your product database every day. Integrate your search to the point of sale or inventory management system to update the availability of each item in real time or near real time.

If you haven’t already, get rid of the outdated “select a location” and “how the items will be received” models.  Instead:

  1. Develop a great UX to locate items:
      • Location data to show the closest location with the item in stock
      • A Netflix-style interface to view the results in multiple locations at once

    Great search UX with location data

     

  2. A dynamic UI that shows all available ways to purchase items: in-store, pickup, or shipment in a single interface

Get ahead of shopper’s wishlist items

Your product offering is one of your greatest assets, so make sure it answers your customer’s needs. Use your search analytics to discover what articles your shoppers are searching for ahead of the holiday season, and most importantly, what they are searching for but not finding. Use those insights to adapt your catalog and plan deals, or to improve your advertising and SEO strategy.

Shoppers who know what products they want will probably perform refined searches to find out if you sell them, or similar items. You can lead them to the right offers on your site by proposing saved search and search alerts. They will have an incentive to come back to your store (or you will have a strong reason to ping them).

Leverage your content in your search results

You and your shoppers generate valuable content about the products you sell, including blog posts, guides, product reviews and social media posts. This content can influence the purchasing decision of your shoppers, and position you as an authority in your domain. The market has seen a +111% conversion lift among consumers interacting with visual content.

1. Don’t hesitate to surface content alongside product pages — in your online store, or in your search results.

user generated content in federated search results

2. Link related items to increase cart size and total customer value:

linking related items in ecommerce checkout

Be more proactive with your merchandising

Unlike with brick-and-mortar stores, you have the luxury to reorganize your storefront in one click, or even automatically. Use it!

Shoppers will look for the best deals, so use the discount rate in the ranking of your search results. Create scarcity by ranking products with limited sales time first. Have a doorbuster offer, but still want to preserve your margins? Rank this doorbuster first for relevant queries, and then add your post-discount margins in your ranking logic. The parameters you can play with are endless. The important thing is to be able to configure the ranking logic of your search according to what matters to your shoppers, and you.

Visual merchandising with a site search tool

 

Whether you like it or not, you will miss some trends and discover high selling offers that you wish you had more promoted. It’s not too late! Tweak your search results ranking logic to promote your best selling products, and capture even more sales.

After the rush is over…

Turn first time shoppers into engaged customers

Through your site search, your shoppers literally speak to you. Leverage those invaluable insights! What were they looking for that you did not offer? What search results converted the most? How did people navigate your store?  Did they filter by a specific brand when looking for TVs? All this data can help you improve your offering and the way you surface it to your shoppers next year.

Throughout the holiday season, you will acquire new shoppers, thanks to your unmatched offers on specific products, and increased advertising efforts. Chances are, if they like the overall experience, they’ll return to your store. So when things calm down, reflect on what went well and what did not, and start planning long-term investments for your user experience. Studies report that every $1 invested in UX yields a $2 to $100 return.

We have more tips and best practices on site search, and views on how to make your online store more competitive.

Get in touch!

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