Archive for month: May, 2013


Managing the Pitfalls of E-Commerce Growth


Few things are more satisfying to an e-commerce retailer than experiencing rapid growth in site usage and sales. But with that growth can come challenges, which if not seen and addressed, can undermine the anticipated success and profitability.

Many e-tailers begin with an off-the-shelf ecommerce platform, such as Magento, Netsuite or IBM Websphere Commerce, which allows them to quickly and easily build and deploy their ecommerce site, and manage operations. These platforms generally provide a shopping cart and content management system, as well as features to assist with product catalog management, order management and customer relationship management. In addition, most platforms provide basic search and navigation features. These generally allow for keyword search based on a finite number of fields from the product catalog and provide site and product navigation.

For many smaller companies, or those in the start-up phase, these basic services are often enough. But growth and product expansion can change all that. The growth trajectory often incudes increasing complexity in:

  • The number of products offered on the site
  • The number of product attributes and SKUs
  • The ways in which products need to be described and categorized (prices, sizes, colors, etc.)
  • The desire to merchandise products in a more agile, sophisticated manner (rapidly changing promotions, cross-sells, etc.)

If the product catalog becomes unwieldy and products become difficult to find and merchandise on the site, the retailer has a problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Once a customer has a frustrating experience on a site, the chances of return visits and sales are greatly reduced.

A third party partner such as EasyAsk can address these problems, give customers an enhanced shopping experience and provide a sound foundation for continued growth. Using natural language site search, navigation and merchandising solutions that integrate seamlessly with the ecommerce platform, EasyAsk has allowed many retailers to double and triple their conversion rates.

The benefits brought by upgrading to EasyAsk include:

  • Improved Search – EasyAsk’s rich linguistic processing “understands” the relationship between words and how they apply to the product catalog, delivering accurate results and eliminating the “no results” page.  EasyAsk understands both the intent of the search and the content of the catalog.
  • Flexible Navigation – EasyAsk’s natural language rules can derive attributes from any field in your product catalog. Navigation is easily extended using dynamic attributes which merchandisers can adjust on the fly for visitors.
  • Dynamic Merchandising: EasyAsk offers a rich suite of merchandising tools in an easy-to-use interface that eliminates the need for IT involvement. The natural language rules and virtually unlimited number of attributes deliver the ultimate combination of flexibility, agility and simplicity.
  • Simplified, Low-Cost Management – A complete set of out-of-the-box analytics and actionable reports track visitor behavior and allows management to clearly see the complete picture and easily make adjustments to fine-tune the shopping experience.

Knowing when to augment your platform with an integrated, third party solution can go a long way towards meeting the challenges associated with managing rapid growth and maintaining a positive trajectory. As you evaluate your needs and available options it is important to remember that not all third party solutions are truly integrated. EasyAsk offers both on-premise and SaaS versions, both of which provide full integration with your e-commerce platform to maintain high degrees of SEO and easy product data integration.


Why Natural Language Search is Important

Visit The North Face and type fleece into the search box









The robust future of e-commerce retail is hardly in dispute. According to Forrester Research, the online retail market is expected to reach $246 billion in 2014.

While consumers have embraced online shopping, the consensus on how well e-tailers’ websites are serving those customers remains open for discussion. Difficult navigation and irrelevant (or nonexistent) search results consistently rank at the top of the list of shopper frustrations. An e-commerce site that could think and respond more like a human being would go a long way to resolving those issues. Enter natural language search.

Natural language search allows users to describe what they are seeking in plain English and receive highly tuned results on demand. The same technology also allows the retailer to simplify and streamline many operational aspects of e-commerce. The benefits can have a significant positive impact on both the customer’s experience and the bottom line.

Reduced clicks/Improved shopper experience. Even on sites with sound navigational structures, a customer may have to click 6 to 10 times to get to the merchandise being searched for. The larger the site, the more SKUs, the more likely a customer will need to spend time and effort to “drill down” to find a specific product.

A customer looking for “black patent leather size 8 flats” can have those results accurately returned in one click, not many. That kind of ease, speed and efficiency engenders customer loyalty, return visits and improves sales. Using linguistic and semantic processing techniques, natural language search interprets what the shopper is looking for so that most relevant products are returned. If no exact match is found, the search returns the closest thing available. The dreaded “No Results” page becomes a thing of the past.

Higher conversion. It’s hardly a secret that a primary goal of the e-commerce retailer is to get items into the customer’s shopping cart – the quicker and easier the better. By understanding what the customer is looking for, and delivering those results, natural language search improves conversion rates. When a well-known national outerwear retailer deployed natural language search, it saw an increase in conversion of over 20%, along with an associated decrease in the number of searches. Shoppers were simply able to find the items they were looking for much faster. The printer supplies e-tailer Inkjetsuperstore (where customers often shop using product numbers) saw a significant drop in call center activity from customers unable to find the items they were looking for. Switching over to natural language search improved both the customer experience and the bottom line.

Continuous improvement. With a natural language search and merchandising platform, the shopper isn’t the only one with a better experience. Because a natural language search platform understands the context and intent of user inquiries, it provides insight which the retailer can use to fine-tune site navigation and which the merchandising manager can use to more effectively target product selection, offers and promotions to customers.

Dynamic, Simplified Merchandising.  Merchandising is made far more streamlined and simple with an easy-to-use interface that puts the merchandiser in the driver’s seat and eliminates the need for IT staff involvement. Using natural language rules, a merchandiser can simply describe “what” they want to happen and “when” they would like that scheduled. New promotions and offers can be implemented quickly and easily.

As the world of e-commerce becomes more diverse, sophisticated and widely adopted, the benefits offered by natural language search are poised to play an increasingly important role for the e-commerce customer and retailer alike.


E-Commerce Search: What You Need to Know, Part II

Merchandising and Management

This post is part 2 of a two part series.











In Part I of this blog post, we discussed the numerous benefits e-commerce search technology can provide for your customer, which directly translate to increased conversion and sales for your business.

In addition to providing the customer with an improved shopping experience, effective e-commerce search also gives you, the retailer, a veritable treasure trove of information regarding what visitors are looking for and what visitors like.

The predictive value of this information gives senior management insights to make important decisions about likely areas for future sales growth. The immediacy and richness of the information lets the merchandising team capitalize quickly and efficiently on opportunities for successful merchandising efforts and inventory forecasting.

The best search platforms allow merchandising managers to not only capture data but put it to work with simple-to-use tools to generate effective promotions and offers. A search platform that supports natural language processing gives merchandisers the ability to easily create and manage offers using plain English, without requiring support from the web or IT teams. Merchandisers can add, change or eliminate promotions quickly as market conditions shift.

Data gathered by an effective search platform also provides analytic information which allows for continuous improvement of the search function and eliminates inefficiencies. Among the analytics you should look for in an e-commerce search engine are:

  • An easy-to-read, high level dashboard that provides at-a-glance metrics and information on how the search environment is performing
  • Detailed reports that show top visitor searches and clicks, zero result searches and problematic search terms
  • Actionable links that allow the user to immediately address any issues uncovered in the reports
  • Natural language query ability to provide easy access to the comprehensive information generated by the search engine and the ability to generate ad hoc reports

Insight provided by search analytics on customer demand or trends can guide critical decisions on offline processes such as inventory, product line expansion and in-store promotions. A few examples:

  • A high search volume and/or conversion on a specific product can help determine the need to order additional stock
  • High volume search results with low conversion can signal the need to consider a price reduction or make adjustments to other facets of the product’s merchandising
  • Searches for products not carried on the e-commerce site signal potential demand and create suggestions for profitable additions to the product line

A good e-commerce search and merchandising platform delivers benefits that are both numerous and wide-ranging. They include improved conversion rates, better customer experience leading to stronger loyalty, agile promotions and merchandising, and improved accuracy and efficiency in product ordering.  Most importantly, all of these increase e-commerce revenues and generate ROI on your search technology.

Not all e-commerce search engines are the same. Whether you purchase on-premise software or SaaS, the product must deliver on the benefits promised and provide a low cost of ownership and operation. When shopping for an e-commerce search platform, it’s critical to do your homework. Keeping the guidelines and recommendations outlined in this two-part blog in mind will go a long way towards making a good and profitable decision.


E-Commerce Search: What You Need to Know, Part I

Why is eCommerce Search Important?

This post is part 1 of a two part series.

Visit The North Face and type fleece into the search box









In a nutshell, search can make or break the profitability of your e-commerce site. Poor search leads to lost visitors, poor conversion rates and lower revenue. A recent Jupiter Research study reports that 85% of site searches don’t return what the user sought.  And another study by Jupiter Media Matrix showed that 80% of visitors will abandon a site if the search is poor. Those are sobering statistics.

On the bright side, a report from the Aberdeen Group found that retailers implementing “Best in Class” e-commerce search reaped enormous benefits, including:

  • An increase in year-over-year average order value by 20% (compared to 8% Industry Average)
  • Net profit margins of 15% (compared to 5% Industry Average)
  • Average online conversion rate of 6% (compared to 4% Industry Average)

It doesn’t take long to see what those performance results can mean to your bottom line.

Best Practices

Your e-commerce search needs to meet the needs of all your visitors, from casual shoppers who may want to peruse a lot of product, to motivated buyers who know exactly what they want and wish to purchase right away. To accommodate both kinds of visitors, your search capabilities should:

  • Always return results.  We can’t emphasize this enough. No results = no sale.
  • Return accurate, edited results. The only thing worse than seeing the “No Results” page is a deluge of results that are not germane to the search. Bad results = unlikely sale.
  • Offer lots of attributes. Buyers will come to your site with a very specific set of attributes in mind, while shoppers may want to explore a wide variety of attributes to guide their purchasing decisions. Your e-commerce search engine needs to be able to accommodate both.

Does Your Search Deliver?

There are several key features that can play an important role in eliminating the dreaded “no results” page.

  • Relaxation: This allows a search engine to ignore one or more words in the search description if the entire string of words would not return a result.
  • Spelling Correction: Typos happen, especially with increased adoption of smaller tablet and mobile keypads. A rich dictionary with automatic spell correction is essential to understanding these misspellings and delivering the results the visitor intended.
  • Term Stemming: Simply put, this means understanding and including all the possible variations of the search term such as plurals, tenses, genders and hyphenated forms.
  • Definable Search Terms:   A search engine which facilitates adding Defined Terms to the search dictionary allows you to include synonyms and alternative phrases that customers might use in their search, as well as add definitions for terms from the product catalog which a search engine might not automatically understand.

When it comes to delivering accurate results, keyword-based search engines tend to come up short. If they read multiple keywords in the search phrase, they can deliver huge numbers of results, many of them irrelevant. To avoid this, a “best in class” search engine should provide:

  • Natural Language Search: A search engine with natural language capabilities can linguistically process an entire search phrase to understand the complete context and deliver correspondingly accurate results.
  • Relevancy: Search managers should have the capability to define and rank the relevancy of search terms and catalog fields with the most relevant terms moved to the top of the search results.

Attributes (any adjectives that describe a product) are essential to the search process. The more attributes in your search dictionary, the more likely it is to deliver highly accurate results across a wide variety of searches.  In addition to direct attributes such as size, color and price, your search engine should support a range of other attributes including operational attributes (inventory, product age, etc.). This allows you to incorporate data from your operational systems to raise specific products in search results or to drive promotions.

In part II of this blog, we’ll explore further how critical a role e-commerce search can play in effective merchandising and proactive management.



Why Are Visitors Abandoning the Cart Without Buying?

This is a guest post from the folks at AbandonAid










In recent years, rates of shopping cart abandonment have gone way up. However, with the help of Abandonaid, e-commerce marketers who have problems with high shopping cart abandonment do not have to worry anymore. But why do customers leave their shopping carts without purchasing?

One cause which affects whether a customer continues the purchase and completes the checkout are high shipping costs of goods. But instead of making the shipping free, online marketers can offer free shipping for purchases over an agreed total. These costs should be one of the easiest decisions the customers have to deal with. In the end it is important to make shipping costs as well as the check-out process clear and understandable for the buyers.

Another reason which leads to high shopping cart abandonment rates is the shopping cart payment options during the check-out process. Most abandoned shopping carts on e-commerce websites do not offer sufficient payment options. If people cannot select the payment method they prefer, they might look for alternative websites where they can choose their favoured form of payment. To reduce high shopping cart abandonment rates, the payment process should be as pleasant and convenient as possible for the customer.

Online retailers who struggle with high cart abandonment can be backed by working with Abandonaid. One way Abandonaid increases the number of customers that follow through with their purchase is email retargeting, which is at low cost and highly effective. At best, customers can receive a shopping cart recovery email a few minutes after the cart abandonment occurred.

With the aid of Abandonaid e-commerce marketers can be sure of help to avoid lost sales and have the abandoned shopping carts recovered.

Ready to see how EasyAsk's eCommerce solution can help you? Request a demo!
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