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.


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