Jamie Challis
Jamie Challis 5 August 2020

Why Do Brands Put Up With Low Conversion? And What to do About It

Your website is your shop window, your catalogue, your brochure, your whole offer right there on display to millions of potential customers at the end of a finger; everything rides on them finding just what they need. And you’ve spent thousands just getting them to the page – radio ads, web ads, email, SEO and SEM, social media, maybe even mail order – all asking them to do just one thing; visit the website and order some goods.

When they get there, and you’re lucky they got there, because they now have more choice than ever in the history of retail, they can see that you have spent big, on design, layout, and navigation. You look like you’ve got the goods – the highest trending, most fashionable, most desirable clothes worn by perfect models, looking perfect wearing your clothes to their best advantage.

You’ve even said to them, ‘look, I’ll help you choose’. Live chat, sparkling reviews, a special promotion, free delivery, testimonial from a YouTube influencer, click and collect, a boxout on how sustainable you are.

So, how come all this investment adds up to an average industry page conversion of less than 3%? And why are even successful brands happy with just over 5%?

The truth is, all the above processes and techniques are essential to getting customers to your site, but most brands have a dirty little secret that they either do not know about or think cannot be fixed and it is search. That damn search bar, to which most customers will turn if they are not sure what they want or where it might be.

Try it yourself. We typed man shirt into the search bar, which was hard to find by the way, of a leading fashion retailer’s website and got one result – Mango soap. It only found man in the word mango and one article that featured mango soap. So, we tried mans shirt; that worked better but who knows, I might have given up by then.

Next problem is, now I’m faced with a sea of shirts with no choice but to scroll through the whole lot. Already I am doing all the work and the brand is pretty much leaving me to my own devices. Some like that, a lot of people don’t; they want help.

So far, the website knows nothing about me and just keeps trying to show me items based on my search but with no understanding of what I am actually looking for. As I start to refine my search, fewer and fewer items come up but they also become less and less relevant until I conclude that the company doesn’t have anything I am looking for at all. So I simply end up contributing to their ever increasing ‘bounce rate,’ the measure of how many customers visit a website without doing anything once they are there.

The Consequences of Standardized Search

Am I likely to come back? I have now assumed that this is not a brand for me. As a thank you for my visit, I get remarketed all over the web for the next week. This does not get me back to their site; it just annoys me.

There is another scenario which is almost as bad; I find what I think I am looking for but because I cannot really get the help I need to guide me and because I am still looking at the items that came up in the initial search, I might just go ahead and buy anyway, hoping it’s fine. Which it might be, but then again it might not be, in which case I return it for a full refund. So, the retailer loses the sale, loses money on the whole deal including the cost of the return; and all that money spent recruiting me is also lost.

I entered the website as a total stranger and I left a total stranger. The final humiliation for me and the brand was that a week later, an email arrived offering me a discount on a product that I did not want, which is pretty much the end of what might have been a beautiful friendship.

Right now, all over the web, customers are having these experiences; and that’s on a good day. The good news is, all your competitors are in the same boat; they might have a slightly superior search facility than you but actually most search tools are standardized straight out of the box, and their development has simply not kept pace with everything else going on in ecommerce.

You could just put up with it and say, well, everyone has poor search, but the problem there is that customers have a lot more places to go than before. Apart from Amazon, new marketplaces are on the rise, which will happily take your business or if you join, take a whopping 30% margin. Why not make sure that the search on your own website actually converts?

The AI-Driven Digital Assistant

Search should be a two-way deal, where the customer trades information for value – I try to tell you what I want and you learn based on how I search and behave on-site.

On-site search solutions should be more like a personal digital assistant driven by AI and adapting your catalogue, merchandising and content to the customer based on their intent.

As the customer searches, the solution then dynamically changes each user journey within a website based on the specific user’s intent.  For example, as part of their individual journey a user could need inspiration, guided shopping or a clear comparison of similar products / ranges. The website starts to understand what consumers are trying to do and can very quickly surface only products and services that are relevant.

This is what search was always meant to be and after 20 years of neglect, this key conversion tool is now getting the attention it deserves.

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