“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – The Realities of eCommerce Search

Sometimes online shopping in 2015 is a flashback to 1969 when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards sang the above titled song in their album ‘Let It Bleed’. You search for something to buy, but the website doesn’t seem to understand what you are asking for and delivers up stuff you didn’t want. You look at the results and decide to shop elsewhere. Lost customer, website bad.

What caused the site to lose a potential sale? It was unable to understand what the customer meant. Let’s look at an example. Consider a shopper looking for wedding flowers. The bride has chosen yellow as the theme color and checks an online site for pricing. She searches for ‘yellow flowers for a marriage’. Seems simple; the occasion is a wedding, the item is a flower and she wants them to be yellow. It seems pretty straightforward.   The site returns all the yellow wedding flowers it has. But what if the site doesn’t have exactly “what she wants”? No eCommerce site wants to return the dreaded ‘no results’ page, so most sites start to ‘relax’ or remove words from the search to return something close but still appropriate.

That’s easy, right? Well if the site search didn’t understand the meaning of the words, it might remove a critical part of the search. If the site doesn’t have ‘yellow wedding flowers’, it might return ‘wedding flowers’. Or it might return ‘yellow flowers’ for any occasion, like a funeral. If I used a site that showed me wedding flowers in a different color, I would continue shopping. Show me yellow funeral flowers and I’m off to another site.

How can you avoid these misunderstandings? One approach is to employ search software that understands the words in the search and how they relate to each other and the site’s catalog. These search engines are called ‘Contextual Search’ and employ ‘Natural Language Processing’ software. Remember diagramming sentences in elementary school and identifying the nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Knowing the role of a word in a website search helps find the right products.

This advanced search software is available for eCommerce sites today. It stops treating every search word as the same and understands what the customer is looking for. Customers get the right results when they search. As Mick and Keith would say, for these customers,

“You get what you need.”



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