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.



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