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5 min read
Satchell Drakes

How should the purchasing story read for customers? Should it be a coherent, focused narrative? Or should it be one peppered with disruptions that eventually force buyers to close the book early and take their business elsewhere?


The answer to that question is hard to come by. So many variables – expected or otherwise – can impact the customer journey. From supply chain disruptions to global economic breakdowns to IT breaches, it can be tough to develop a brand experience that is consistently relevant and valuable.


But it is possible – and a great place to start is with a simple, effective user search experience for online retail customers. Think about it. If someone has gone out of their way to spend their precious time on a website, they’re usually ready to purchase. In fact, on-site product searches are 216% more likely to yield buys than visits without search, according to WebLinc research.


The minute that your e-commerce search becomes strained, clunky or unfruitful, that excitement can wane – and customers may look elsewhere to recapture that feeling.


How to go about search experience optimisation


A suboptimal e-commerce search experience can deter customers in a hurry. One Salesforce report concluded that 76% of buyers will move from one brand to another if they don’t like their customer experience. A simplified search flow builds the foundation to amplify the experience and strengthen the overall buyer narrative – plus, it becomes an encounter that customers are more than happy to share with their personal and professional networks.


Here are a few search strategies that can help improve the user experience and tell a better end-to-end purchasing story for brands:


1. Allow online and offline to work in tandem. Now is an amazing time to strengthen the connection with online retail enthusiasts. The purchasing journey can begin, end and change course on a whim – and it’s all in the buyer’s control.


Someone can start the product search in a store, do some mobile research when they have a free minute, then sit down in front of their computer and make a purchase. Best of all, this process can occur over the course of a few months or in a matter of a few minutes. All retailers have to do is make the experience simple at every possible touchpoint.


If a search is done in-store, think about ways in which customers won’t have to look for a needle in a haystack once they return home to resume their search (and vice versa). Email or send an SMS to the customer with personalised language to thank them for their business and offer any additional assistance. But make sure to use the full name of the product so it stays top of mind for the customer. A user-friendly search experience becomes that when customers can enter it from every conceivable entry point.


2. Offer to clarify. We all err on the keyboard from time to time. Whether it’s an honest-to-goodness typo (‘teh’ instead of ‘the’, for example) or an ill-timed autocorrect from your device, mistakes can find their way into the product search field. But that doesn’t mean retailers have to allow them to derail the purchasing process.


Try thinking one step ahead. Say, for instance, you’re an online apparel company and a customer needs to buy some men’s tops in bulk, and they enter “men’s tee shirts” in the search field. An optimised search engine could respond with “Did you mean ‘men’s t-shirts’?” and then bring up some options to continue shopping.


Or let’s say someone is searching for first-aid kit items and types “Band-Aid” to no avail. A site can add synonym labels to items so shopping for Band-Aids can also bring up results for “adhesives” or another phrase that leads to a similar product. Sometimes, customer searches get too specific or take the wrong turn with a misplaced keystroke. If you can predict those occurrences and offer guidance, searches get that much more user-friendly. Speaking of…


3. Read your customers’ minds. We’ve all heard of or used active listening in the past. It’s the process of taking in the whole of a conversation with someone, and then offering an informed and thoughtful response. Luckily, search engines powered by AI and other innovative algorithms can act as suggestive and consultative entities for modern shoppers.


Think about someone starting their kitchen remodel online. The first step might be to knock down a wall and assemble a kitchen island that improves the flow from one end of the room to the other. Chances are the island won’t be the only addition made to the area, and the customer may want to keep their shopping to one or two stores – work smarter rather than harder, if you will.


Retailers can leverage several suggestive features, offering related categories or trending/related searches. Going back to the kitchen island project, adjacent products like refrigerators, backwash patterns or sink fixtures could pop up to pique customer interest. Or a prompt could pop up saying “Customers who purchased this item also bought these kitchen cabinets”.


Think of it like a floor representative at a brick-and-mortar store. They’re knowledgeable and persistent (sometimes overly so) shopping presences. But their suggestions can make the shopping or search experience process exponentially quicker and more enjoyable.


4. Eliminate dead ends. Who’s afraid of “404 error” and “This product is no longer in stock” messages? Whether the culprit is a broken link or out-of-date inventory, the outcome is a customer having to go back to square one. In fact, one report concluded that nearly 74% of customers stop an online shopping search in its tracks when a 404 error rears its ugly head.


Nothing stops the momentum of a potential sale quicker than when those phrases enter the fold. If those types of dead ends pop up too often in product searches, knock them down and provide alternatives, if possible. You can also provide inventory updates for nearby stores so customers can explore in-store options.


Synonyms work here, as does “This is a popular alternative”. Just take whatever steps necessary to get those obstacles away from e-commerce searches. After all, your customers want to have the smoothest possible journey.


Give your e-commerce search (and story) a happy ending


Customers look to online retailers and their products to solve everyday problems and assist them in their goals. A difficult search experience can make completing those tasks harder to come by; plus, it sets a bad precedent for the brands that don’t take the time to simplify that process. By being a reliable, uncomplicated retail option, you give customers peace of mind. They’ll be excited to shop with you, even if they don’t find the exact product they came for.


Improving retail site searchability is an investment in customers’ time and the brand’s bottom line and overall narrative – keep it simple.


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