Jamie Challis
Jamie Challis 30 July 2020

Search and You Won’t Find

Some people love wasting time searching for products and services online, most however, don’t. They just want companies to make it easy for them to find what they want. Surprising perhaps, but search technology is not really designed for the average customer; they want specifics while the search engines deals in breadth; it wants to bring you everything so when the consumer tries to narrow things down, the search engine is actually not doing what comes naturally.

The search engine is not very good at learning; it may be able to refer the customer back to a page they looked at before because of the consumer’s digital footprint or due to the cookie the site left behind, but if that webpage was not useful, then the search process has actually gone backwards. So, the customer continues to end up where they never wanted to go in the first place – ever decreasing circles displaying a choice of unwanted products. 

Given that typical conversion rates on retail websites is 2-3%, then there is everything to play for in making search easier and more rewarding for shoppers. Retailers invest heavily in SEO and PPC to get customers from Google to their site but too often think the job is done once they get there.

Products are then displayed to their best advantage on the site; email or newsletter sign up is offered; online chat is offered; promotions pop up; a list of nearby stores is offered; and so on. But at no point is the customer offered or given any help, apart from the online chat window which follows them around.

At this point, the customer may well start to follow the journey laid out for them by the retailer; they get distracted and end up somewhere entirely different from where they intended. Some customers like to wander, but those that already knew what they were looking for do not.

Meanwhile, what has the retailer learned from all the precious time the customer has spent on their site? Only that the customer has not bought anything, and it is only at this point that an offer pops up or the online chat box appears.  But none of these actions are based on any knowledge of the customer other than which pages they have looked at.

Our view is that customers want help when they are on a website. They want to be able to ask questions using natural rather than search language and they want the search function to learn based on those answers.

Watch this on-demand webinar from Zoovu to learn why your search is losing you money.

Virtual shopping assistants powered by artificial intelligence are able to discover and understand customer intent and apply relevant skills in response to every search. This then enables it to quickly build a profile on each customer based on keyword and behavioural data.  It can then dynamically change each user journey within a website based on intent.  For example, as part of their individual journey, a customer could need inspiration, guided shopping or a clear comparison of similar products / ranges. By understanding what the customer is trying to do, the solution very quickly surfaces only products and services that are relevant.

In considering the full impact of bad search, it is clear that online retailers need to make a change. This is not just about lost sales and lost customers but about potentially further lost customers if the initial customer leaves a bad review or complains on social media. Or if the customer buys what looks about right, then the retailer will see its returns rate rise once the customer realises they have made a mistake.

More money is then wasted on new customer acquisition. Margin is lost due to overstocking of too many products that customers do not want, and further margin is lost because the retailer has to discount early.

The compulsion to act has been clear for some time, particularly as competition in online intensifies, but this has now accelerated post Covid-19. It will get even harder for consumers to find what they want as they are already being inundated with offers to distract them from what they are actually looking for.

During the lockdown, millions of people who had never or hardly ever shopped online, suddenly had to get used to remote shopping and ordering. This relatively unsophisticated audience will need help as digital buying behaviours and the online shopping habits learnt during lockdown will have become cemented in customers’ psyches.

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