What is the biggest onsite search headache for retailers?
The concept of searching online seems straightforward on the face of it. Look a little more closely, and there is an intricate web of purpose, desired outcomes and best practice to consider.
I regularly speak to retailers about how to provide the best onsite search experience. Knowing how to understand a customer’s intent is their foremost concern, and my advice to them is to see search engines as virtual shop assistants. Use technology to engage better with the consumer and combine it with a human touch to apply direction.
The problem is it’s hard to define what good search is. That’s because we often confuse relevant results with useful results. Nowadays, returning relevant results wherever possible is pretty much a given for the vast majority of search requests. The greater challenges for retailers are searches for products where the customer’s intent is unclear or where no results that match exactly are available.
Make the shopper part of the search algorithm
While we can, and should, try to make our algorithms better in deciphering user intent, we should also consider involving shoppers wherever they can be more effective than algorithms. After all, they know why they are searching for something. If we aim to make our search engines more transparent and interactive and combine automation with creativity and control, we will deliver the correct results. Whenever a search algorithm is unsure about search intent, ask the shopper to clarify. All this gives them the feeling the search engine truly understands them, and that they are in control of their buying experience.
Implement intelligent Interfaces
With good user interface design it’s easy to change the perception of a search engine - especially for those cases where algorithmic solutions are difficult. For example, a common approach to searches for sold out products is to force wonky results onto customers based on a doubtful similarity matching logic. Instead, it’s perfectly fine to tell them that the product isn’t available. The important task is to guide the consumer to alternatives: tell them why there are no results and offer meaningful alternatives that are contextually suitable.
Relevancy is key
In short, we need to start thinking about searches as conversations with customers. We need to take what bricks-and-mortar stores have been perfecting for hundreds of years, and teach search engines good customer service.