An effective on-site search experience will likely help Internet merchants sell more products.
About 43 percent of online shoppers will use a site's own search to find products and make buying decisions, according to a study from Marketing Sherpa. Separately, a Jupiter Research study suggested that some 80 percent of buyers would leave an ecommerce site that offers a poor shopping experience.
Together these data points demonstrate how important a good on-site search may be for an online retailer.
Search Should be Fast and Accurate
At its most basic, a search should be very fast — results should seem to jump onto the page instantly — and very accurate, including compensating for misspellings and synonyms at the very least.
Server configuration, memory allocation, and even how a search algorithm is built can affect search performance or speed. So managing this aspect of an on-site search may tend to be more technical. The end goal, however, is clear even to the least tech savvy site visitors — search results should show up right away.
Search result accuracy means that a given set of search results match the query's intention. As a basic example, the results of a search for the query “dog house” might be most accurate, if those results also included dog kennels. Although these two items — dog house and dog kennel — are distinct, they are often used together to describe a shelter for dogs.
It may also be the case that to provide an accurate user experience, an on-site search solution may need to generate results for items a retailer does not carry, but which customers will expect to find. Take the example of a multi-channel merchant that may have 90,000 products in its physical stores, but only 10,000 on its website — since online stores require product photography and descriptions that are not necessary in a brick-and-mortar store. Some customers will assume that they can search for anything that would be found in a physical store, and when that is not the case, those customers might assume that something is wrong with the on-site search. For these types of items, a merchant might show a search results page that says, “We don't have this on our website yet, but it is available at some locations...”
Offer Search Results Filters
Even with accurate and fast search results, it may not be the case that users will find exactly what they were looking for with the initial search query. Rather it is common for searchers to refine their queries using slightly different phrases or moving from general search terms to more specific ones.
Offering search-result filters may help shoppers refine results without having to start over, if you will, with a new query.
A search for “fuel injectors” on the American Muscle website, which sells aftermarket parts for Ford Mustangs, not only provides a result set, but also lets users refine those results by product category, the vehicle's model year, desired part brand, or price — improving the user's search experience.
Similarly, the Harry & David website, which sells gift baskets and fruit, allows users to filter search results using a series of dropdown menus.
Include Social Content, Videos, and Reviews in Results
Fast, accurate, and filterable results will go a long way toward helping shoppers find the product they would like to buy. This is excellent for those customers who know what they want.
Search results may also help shoppers who were just browsing decide if they want to buy. This can be done by including content beyond products on a search results page.
As an example, 24 Hour Fitness shows searchers product content, blog content, Facebook results, and even videos on its internal site search results page. These expanded results may help shoppers make a buying decision.
Another example may be found on the Zappos website, where searchers see product reviews right along with product results.
On-site search is an important tool for shoppers. It helps them both find products and, potentially, make buying decisions about those products.
A fast and accurate site search that allows users to filter results and learn more about a product from social media, blogs, videos, or reviews will help some merchants sell more.