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A commentary on the search industry from a site search vendor's perspective.
Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

Say It with Video – 1 Billion Are Watching (and Buying)

December 16, 2014 - 17:02

With 1 billion people using YouTube today, video is the most powerful means of spreading information to the world’s 7 billion people. And since more than 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube, that’s almost one hour for every person on this planet!

As a content marketer in the e-commerce space, I’m especially interested in watching the speed of adoption of video in online retail. Product videos offer details that static images can’t, like how someone might hold or wear the product. According to an Animoto study and infographic, 73% of U.S. adults are more likely to purchase a product after watching an online video that explains it.

A Proven Way to Differentiate

Many sites use video as a way to set themselves apart from big-name brands. Bulk Reef Supply has created more than 300 videos for its saltwater aquarium and reefing products, even branding its video channel as “BRS TV” to make it more visible on YouTube. This is a smart way to increase product discovery, establish expertise and provide affirmation to buyers that they are choosing the right product. Simply by providing the information consumers need to make the right purchase, Bulk Reef Supply differentiates itself from potentially less knowledgeable competitors.

Northwest River Supply is another business that succeeds by providing expert advice that’s typically not found on many sport supply sites. Search for “kayak” and you’ll see a menu of more than 200 videos about kayaking. You can refine the search by whitewater, tour/rec and other types of rafting sports to find how-to videos that meet your particular interest.

As mentioned in Shaun Ryan’s recent blog, “shopping haul” videos are another type of video format that retailers can leverage in 2015. As the popularity of these videos increases, so does the opportunity.

Worth 1.8 Million Words?

I’ve often found truth in the maxim: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” So naturally, I’ve wondered how many words a video might be worth. I recently found that Dr. James McQuivey of Forrester Research actually made an attempt at calculating the comparative worth – he estimated that one minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. Well, the writer in me thinks that’s too high. But whether or not his assessment is true, it’s evident that video is an incredibly effective way to influence consumers who want bite-sized bits of information and entertainment that will fit into their busy lives.

E-commerce Search Queries Hit New High Thanksgiving Weekend

December 4, 2014 - 19:16

As 2014 holiday shopping statistics roll in, SLI Systems found some interesting trends among search query data for the 800+ e-commerce sites it serves. In addition to seeing a record-breaking Cyber Monday, we identified the weekend’s peak U.S. shopping times, discovered that 40% of weekend shopping was done from mobile devices, saw huge international growth in Black Friday shopping, and hit a new milestone with the number of search queries SLI served.

Late-Night Shoppers Prevail

Overall, it’s clear that holiday e-commerce shopping is up significantly from last year – The Custora E-Commerce Pulse reported an increase of 15.4% in e-commerce revenue for the holiday weekend (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) over the same weekend in 2013. As mentioned in an SLI press release issued today, 10 p.m. EST on Cyber Monday was the peak hour for online shopping in the U.S. Thanksgiving Day shopping also peaked at 10 p.m. EST.

Mobile Monday?

SLI research also found that 37% of Cyber Monday shopping in the U.S. was conducted on mobile devices – this is up from the 29% reported by Marketing Land in 2013. As the percentage of mobile shopping continues to rise – and the term “cyber” becomes more dated (“Cyber Monday” was first coined by in 2005 to describe the online shopping peak on the Monday after Black Friday) – this $2 billion shopping day may be on its way toward the new name of “Mobile Monday.”

Black Friday Now a Global Event

While the chart above looks at peak U.S. shopping times, our data surprisingly showed a significant amount of Black Friday traffic coming from Brazil and the UK. Even though these countries don’t celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday that Americans enjoy on the fourth Thursday and Friday of November, retailers have launched Black Friday campaigns in Brazil and the UK to capitalize on the U.S. shopping trend. Amazon was the first to offer Black Friday discounts in the UK in 2000, and clearly, the trend has skyrocketed.

Record Queries Served by SLI

Due to the international growth of Black Friday shopping and online shopping in general, SLI also hit a new record of serving more than 100 million site-search queries in a single day. There are many ways we prepare for supporting our clients’ peak shopping days – from the highly redundant and scalable cloud architecture we offer year-round to the additional site optimizations our engineers conduct well in advance of expected peaks. We’re pleased to be able to support the increased search traffic on any of our clients’ sites, no matter what day of the year.

Checklist for a Holiday-Ready E-commerce Site

November 17, 2014 - 17:40

With the holidays upon us, e-commerce retailers are fine-tuning their sites in preparation for Black Friday. Here’s a quick checklist to help make your 2014 Holiday Season brighter by gauging your site’s readiness. I’ve included several tips and tools for testing that have worked well for me in the past.

1. Is your site up to speed?

With 47% of users expecting a web page to load in less than two seconds, speed is crucial. Slower sites increase bounce rates and decrease conversions. Walmart found that for every one second page speed was improved, conversion rates increased up to 2%. Think about what that means to your bottom line. Holiday shoppers aren’t willing to wait for your site to load.

This brings up an interesting point when we talk about page load speeds. To your users, the page is complete when it appears visually ready and they can interact with it. A great way to measure this is, which lets you compare your site against your competitors. This will help identify scripts and elements you can load later in the page cycle to improve performance.

We can’t really talk about speed and the holidays without talking about stress testing your site for the surge in traffic that peak season will bring. You want to make sure your web infrastructure and content delivery network are properly configured so you don’t experience any downtime. Properly load testing a site requires coordination with your CDN and IT teams to ensure you don’t unintentionally DDOS your own site.

2. Do you have a consistent user experience across channels and devices?

Tablet and mobile traffic has now eclipsed desktop traffic, according to Branding Brand’s Mobile Commerce Index for 2014. Today’s users often interact with multiple device types before they convert. The majority of emails – 65% – are opened on a smartphone or tablet. According to Limelight Networks, Inc., 80% of customers abandon a mobile site if they have a bad user experience.

Users expect a seamless experience between different devices. If you don’t optimize these first-touch customer experiences, you risk losing buyers. There are many different ways to address this issue, from responsive design to dedicated mobile sites, each with its own challenges. For instance, responsive design requires careful coding and CDN configuration to minimize download time while dedicated mobile sites need special attention paid to redirecting links based on device.

It’s all about reducing friction for the user as they travel down the conversion funnel. For mobile users, don’t use incompatible desktop features like hover and make sure email links are optimized for smaller screens. On the other side, make sure links shared via mobile open properly for desktop users.

Here are a few more things that work well no matter the device format: Limit the amount of form fields on checkout, put the search bar in an obvious place near the top of the page and use predictive analysis to help auto complete search queries.

3. Do you have the right merchandising and product mix?

Knowing the right products to offer and displaying these products first on your category pages increases conversions. For customers using SLI Learning Navigation, all category pages are automatically merchandised based on user behavior, such as clicks, conversions, sales and margin, to ensure that you display the most relevant products first.

Wondering what promotions or product mixes your competitors had last year for Black Friday? Try the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

4. Are you using gift finders?

At this time of year, you will have shoppers who aren’t your regular customers coming to your site to buy a gift. A parametric search lets you provide a guided shopping experience and walk the user down a path. A user might say she is shopping for a man, wants to spend $100 and wants the gift to be in sporting goods. This quickly gets the customer to relevant products. This type of search works well anywhere a guided experience is useful, such as a trip finder where filtering by region and price make it easier to see a large range of products.

5. Do you provide recommendations?

Customers appreciate a personalized experience while shopping. Being able to offer them other contextually relevant products enhances the customer experience and increases both conversion and cart size. When shoppers interact with the related products displayed on SLI Dynamic Product Banners, retailers are seeing a 10-20% increase in conversion rates.

As the customer moves through the site you can make more fine-grained recommendations. On the homepage, new customers might see “top sellers.” As they go deeper into a site, based on behavior, you can show recommendations like “customers who viewed this item also viewed” or “frequently bought together.” At the cart, you can suggest accessories related to the items they are buying, and at order confirmation, you have the opportunity to upsell again.

The most personalized recommendation you can offer is “recently viewed,” which performs really well. In this case, customers have shown an explicit interest in a product. If you make it easy to quickly jump back to that product – even if they come back to the site after a few minutes or a few days – it increases conversions dramatically.

My advice on recommendations is to test all the variances you can on the page to see which one preforms best. I would even test the call to action verbiage around the recommendation because context is very important to recommendations. Customers will value the recommendations more if they understand the logic of why you are showing the items.

To learn more about preparing for the holiday season, see a video of a webinar I recently presented on this subject.

May your season be bright, and your site bring in much revenue!

How Might Retailers Leverage Shopping Haul Videos?

November 11, 2014 - 21:00

There is a largely untapped resource that most retailers aren’t leveraging to the fullest. I’m talking about shopping haul videos, also called unpacking videos. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this weird phenomenon, let me give you a brief description.

Shopping haul videos are made by people that have been shopping – either at a store, or online – and when they have the goods at home they turn on the camera and record themselves opening up all their goodies. It sounds quirky, right? However, these videos get an amazing number of views and they continue to grow.

Now the nice thing about these videos from a retailer’s point of view is that they are video reviews that feature their products and their stores. They are taken at the time when the shopper is most positive about their purchases, in the afterglow of the buying, before they’ve had an opportunity to be disappointed by them. They are authentic – typically done in their home. So these are authentic, positive video reviews of retailer’s products. Dang!

So how could retailers use shopping haul videos? I think it would be great if they could make the videos viewable on the product pages that are featured in the video. Retailers know the value of videos for improving engagement, yet videos are fairly expensive to produce. With the shopping haul trend, there are millions of videos that have already been produced that retailers can use.

So how do retailers find these videos? A simple search of “[Retailer name] haul” will give you a good start. Then you need someone to watch the video and work out which products are featured. The video can then be embedded in the product page. You could do this now for a few products, test it and see if it helps.

I came up with this idea a few years ago when I first heard about shopping haul videos at the online retailer show in Australia and then heard how popular they were. I had proposed creating a tool to make it easy for retailers (or anyone) to tag these videos and to embed them into product pages. It’s not unlike the recommendations we imbed in product pages now: some supplementary content that helps improve conversions. It could also feature in the search and nav in the same way that we index retailer’s videos as part of our Learning Search offering now.

However my idea has never made it to the top of our priority queue (we have a lot of cool stuff we’re working on). What do you think of it? Have you considered doing something like this? How many shopping haul videos are there for your store?


Top Costumes for Halloween 2014: Spine-Chilling or Just Chilly?

October 30, 2014 - 16:21

When you open up your front door for trick-or-treaters this Halloween, you are more likely to be visited by Queen Elsa, and other ‘Frozen’ characters like Princess Ana and the lovable Olaf, than bloodcurdling zombies. This prediction is based on a large sampling of e-commerce searches over the past two months.

‘Frozen’ is the most sought-after costume theme this season, with the category receiving nearly 1.2 million consumer searches, or 122% more search activity than costumes related to the second most popular film this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT). The gap is even greater between the icy theme and other popular movie characters including those from Book of Life, Batman, Despicable Me (minions) and Maleficent.

As noted in a recent Forbes article, SLI Systems tracked more than 80 million searches across 17 websites selling Halloween costumes between September 1st and October 26th of this year. Of the top 15 most-searched costumes for 2014, seven are film-related:

  1. Frozen – 1,192,000 (includes searches for Elsa, Olaf & other characters)
  2. Zombie – 863,000
  3. Ninja – 863,000
  4. Pirate – 796,000
  5. Clown – 659,000
  6. Witch – 588,000
  7. Vampire – 565,000
  8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 536,000
  9. Book of Life – 308,000 (includes searches for “day of the dead”)
  10. Flapper – 277,000
  11. Batman – 251,000
  12. Despicable Me – 233,000 (78% of related searches were for minion characters)
  13. Maleficent – 227,000
  14. Monster High – 206,000
  15. Star Wars – 148,000


So, what’s the hottest Halloween costume this year? The forecast calls for a “cool” cast of characters.

Holiday E-commerce & Personalization Among Top Themes at SLI Connect

October 21, 2014 - 20:24

I’ve written before about the many benefits of face-to-face meetings, and after our inaugural SLI Connect event in Seattle earlier this month, I can affirm the immense value of gathering our customers together in one place.

SLI Connect provided a full day of retailer presentations and discussions about best practices for site search, navigation, product recommendations, mobile, merchandising, SEO and more. As retailers shared their current challenges in breakout groups, many were able to help each other identify “quick win” solutions. And as SLI executives shared our tentative product roadmap, we received real-time feedback about which innovations are most important to our customers.

We all enjoyed discussing the shopping experience of the future. Plus, we had fun dining, networking and laughing together at evening events. The relationships we built or enhanced were worth the effort of gathering from various parts of the world. Many SLI customers contacted us afterward to share their enthusiasm, indicating that their time was well spent.

There were many clear takeaways, but a few themes stood out most for me:

Holiday 2014

We requested that attendees complete a survey, which asked: “Which capabilities are expected to be the biggest drivers of your e-commerce business this holiday season?” Given nine options, retailers identified the top three drivers as SEO, Optimized Site Search and Optimized Mobile Sites. The answers indicate that getting shoppers to arrive on your site is just as important as ensuring they find the products they seek once they’re on the site.

We also surveyed SLI Connect attendees about their business drivers and new initiatives for the 2014 holiday season. When we asked: “Is Omnichannel an important part of your 2014 holiday season strategy?” 85% responded “Yes,” indicating a clear priority for multi-channel retailers to optimize interactions across mobile, social, desktop and/or brick-and-mortar store channels.


I believe e-commerce is just at the cusp of what can happen with personalization, and I am not alone. Others at SLI Connect shared an interest in enabling their customers to find (or be pushed) relevant product information or content at the right time, via the right channel. In a panel discussion, Alicia Fiorletta, a senior editor at Retail TouchPoints, explained: “All retailers just want to get closer to the customer – to get to where the customer is and interact with them in a way that relates to them.”

During her presentation about using SLI to help customers find products amid tens of thousands of SKUs, Lisa Dahlke, web operations manager at Silver Star Brands (a multi-channel retailer that includes Miles Kimball, Walter Drake, Exposures and others) said: “We are trying to understand who our customers are, how we need to treat them differently, and how our smaller brands can most stand out.”

Sam Sarullo of Lakeshore Learning shared: “We’re seeing a high trend in text/SMS messages converting, so we’re changing our strategy to do more text blasts.” His comment underscored how the strategies for reaching and converting shoppers in a relevant way across channels are ever-evolving.

Partners in Innovation

During SLI Connect, SLI CTO Wayne Munro and I offered a sneak peek into SLI’s product roadmap, with an interactive session that gave customers and prospects the opportunity to share their priorities for 2015. In addition to hearing what’s on deck, customers learned more about the products and features already available for accelerating e-commerce.

Following the event, Gavin Trippe of 2 Wheel Parts Supply said, “I attended SLI Connect knowing SLI was going to play a big part of our success in e-commerce, and I was extremely impressed with the event and the SLI team’s knowledge. It was clear that SLI really understands the future of e-commerce. The company continues to improve and invest in the product, offering a huge amount of features.”

He added: “One of the most important things SLI offers is the willingness to develop our integration past the initial installation − it shows they agree that a site will never be finished and will always have room for improvement.”

I appreciate Gavin’s comment, because I take pride in our business model; we provide ongoing innovations and advice that will continually improve our clients’ sites – not as a separate professional services or support fee, but as an included service. And I think it’s this way of doing business that makes it valuable and enjoyable for our customers to spend time with us. They know that we are genuinely listening to and responding to their requests for improvement, rather than pushing sales pitches.

I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with those who attended SLI Connect, and I look forward to hosting the event again in the future.

If you missed the event and would like some tips on improving your holiday results, please enjoy this on-demand version of our latest webinar, the E-Commerce Holiday Playbook.

6 Ways to Optimize the Mobile Shopping Experience

October 16, 2014 - 18:00

The stats are in and the message is clear: people are shopping on their smartphones and tablets more and more every day. Mobile commerce in the U.S. is:

Mobile shopping is outpacing desktop shopping; billions of dollars are on the line; and yet smartphone conversion rates remain at an embarrassingly low 1% or less for many retailers. Why? 80% of shoppers say they typically abandon a mobile site if they have a bad user experience (Limelight). To take advantage of this massive opportunity, online retailers need to provide shoppers with an excellent customer experience.

While there are many different ways to address all these different device formats, such as dedicated mobile or tablet sites or even a complete overhaul like Responsive design, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Whichever approach you choose, here are six tips to help you optimize your mobile customer experience:

1. Speed Matters

Nearly half of consumers expect a web page to load in less than two seconds (KISSmetrics). Remember that there is a distinct difference between what a computer calculates as page weight/load time and what a user will consider the page speed. Optimizing web pages for “visually complete” – or the user’s perception of when a page is complete – and optimizing actual page load times will create a better user experience. Tip: Use Google Page Speed Insights for overall comparison and WebPageTest to compare visually.

Image size also matters. Make sure to serve appropriately sized images and remember that even images hidden via CSS for a mobile view will still be downloaded.

  • If using a mobile site, make sure images are sized for that form factor; don’t simply reuse desktop images as they will force users to download excessively large images.
  • If the site is Responsive, make use of client side conditional loading (imager.js) or dynamic image compression (e.g. Akamai’s ION product line) to ensure users aren’t downloading unneeded bytes. Tim Kadlec found that by using a responsive image technique, sites could save up to 72.2% of image weight.

2. Reduce Customer Friction

Conversion rates on average are four to five times higher for people who use on-site search. Additionally, the type of visitors who utilize the search box are showing explicit intent and are more likely to purchase (PFSweb). Mobile users specifically are more likely to use search so make sure your search box is in an obvious place near the top of the page. Tools to ease the on-site searcher’s path-to-purchase include:

  • Rich Auto Complete ­­­­– Ease the pain of typing in search terms on small mobile devices by adding Rich Auto Complete to your search box. Through predictive analysis, this will offer suggested keywords and products as the user is typing the search term. This saves the user time and frustration and is a great way to reduce a customer friction point.
  • Spelling Suggestions – One of the difficulties that come with shopping from a mobile device is that the keyboard may be small or difficult to use, and customers may not be able to type in search words correctly. Account for misspellings or similar words by employing autocorrect or synonym rules. These rules create linkages between words to show the correct products when a word is misspelled or a different term or slang is used. 
  • Reviews & Social Media – Show ratings and reviews with your product results. Provide this social currency on site so users don’t need to leave your site to research products. Also, more shoppers are using social media to get ideas for gifts or find new items they’d like to purchase. Make sure you are catering to your mobile visitors by allowing them to share their favorite products easily among their social networks.

3.  Touch-Enabled Devices

When designing for touch-enabled devices, it’s important to remember the size of the human finger and thumb. The touch target for an index finger is 57 pixels and a thumb is 72 pixels. Making touch targets smaller than these targets can lead to user frustration and incorrect clicks. Moreover, don’t require users to pinch and zoom in order to navigate pages as these actions also lead to a negative user experience.

A very common mistake in mobile development is attempting to port desktop features directly to a mobile device. With a touch-enabled device, the user is not navigating the page with a mouse cursor so keep in mind that functions like hover don’t translate into a positive customer experience. At best, the user will attempt to click the item multiple times to activate the link; at worst, the user will be unable to click through at all. According to Thomas Fuchs, “The easiest way to deal with this is simple: don’t use hover on touch-enabled devices.”

4. Make Checkout Easy

Smart e-commerce companies create as few steps as possible at mobile checkout. When you allow visitors to checkout quickly and easily, they’re more likely to complete the purchase. To speed customers through checkout:

  • Reduce form length (fewer than 6 fields); if multiple steps, show progress
  • Top Align form labels for easy readability while typing
  • Allow guest checkout (to again, “reduce friction”)
  • PayPal/Google Wallet payment options get customers through the process quickly

5. It’s Time to Revolt Against Sliders (on Desktop and Mobile)

There have been numerous studies showing that sliders are useless. Site visitors are highly unlikely to take the time to read each slide or interact with the slider. Notre Dame performed a test with a slider on their homepage, only to find that the first image was the only image to receive interest from visitors (and only 1% of visitors). Take a serious look at your analytics and evaluate whether or not the extra download time and screen real estate is actually providing your customer value or simply satisfying everyone on the committee. Instead of sliders:

  • Show relevant sales items, or personalized offers based on season or geography
  • Show returning customers something based on their shopping affinity or past purchases
  • Avoid banner blindness and focus on what you really want the customer to do

6. Without Testing, You’re Just Guessing

Mobile customer expectations are evolving at a rapid rate so adapting to these ever-changing requirements is critical for success in an extremely competitive e-commerce environment. Performing tests, whether A/B or multivariate, can identify whether a feature can help or hurt your bottom line and is the best means of identifying which tips will best improve your conversion rates.  Looking at what your competitors do and industry best practices are only starting points; you also need to know what your audience responds well to.

To learn more about how to improve conversion rates and increase revenue from your mobile sites and apps, visit

Brazil’s $35 Billion E-commerce Boom

October 9, 2014 - 20:13

In 2014, Brazil is much more than FIFA World Cup host or Carnival central when it comes to business. It is also the next hot spot for e-commerce business. According to Forrester, e-commerce in Brazil grew 21% to a whopping $15 Billion in 2013, from $12.4 billion in 2012. And over the next five years, e-commerce in Brazil is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 18% to reach annual online retail sales of $35 billion by 2018.

“Brazil is a top five Internet audience now. It shows no signs of stopping in terms of the audience size, the growth, the engagement, the use of search, the use of video, the use of social media,” said Alex Banks, the Latin America head for market-research firm comScore Inc. “If Brazil is not part of your international expansion and you’re an Internet company, then you’re doing something terribly wrong.”

While SLI recognized several years back the incredible opportunity to expand into the Brazilian market to help retailers boost their online presence, others are now also promoting their desire to do business with Brazil. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article about Alibaba’s plans for business in Brazil.

To compete with the likes of Alibaba, retailers in Brazil need to have compelling e-commerce sites. One critical aspect is to have strong site search tools so that shoppers can readily find the products they are most likely to buy. Companies accelerating their e-commerce sales with strong site search include Raia Drogasil, the largest pharmacy group in Brazil; retail giant Colombo; and others such as Centauro, Saraiva and Nike. All are working with SLI to boost customer conversion rates by as much as 30%.

For SLI, expanding into Brazil was the best decision; the company’s annualized recurring revenues in Brazil grew 95% during its 2014 fiscal year. This in part is due to a strong sales program, good relationships, effective solutions and the availability of SLI solutions in Portuguese. See it for yourself at

To learn more about how SLI helps global e-commerce retailers accelerate sales by connecting shoppers with the products they’re most likely to buy, check out our best-practice case studies.


Time for a Change! SLI Reveals Its New Brand

September 25, 2014 - 22:02

At SLI Systems, we’re proud of our 13-year history of providing high-quality learning-based site search, and our status as the leading SaaS-based site search provider to the Internet Retailer Top 1,000. We’re also proud of our culture of ongoing innovation, which has led us to expand our solutions to include learning-based navigation, recommendations, user-generated SEO, mobile search and an array of merchandising tools and analytics. To communicate our commitment to meet the expanding needs of e-commerce retailers around the world, today we launch our new brand identity.

E-commerce Accelerated

Seen in this photo with CEO Shaun Ryan, the new SLI Systems logo and tag line embody our mission to accelerate e-commerce by connecting shoppers with the products they are most likely to buy. As mentioned in today’s press release, the ‘S-like’ symbol in the new logo represents a shopper’s seamless path to purchase. The interwoven elements reflect the customer collaboration that is core to SLI’s ongoing success and the success of our customers. The color palate considers the nuances of cultures across the five continents where SLI operates. We believe the logo enhances our already-strong brand recognition among the world’s leading e-commerce businesses.

As you see our new identity carried out on our web site, ads, tradeshow graphics, etc., I hope you’ll take a fresh look at what SLI has to offer – solutions that are proven to deliver e-commerce results, like the 30% increase in site revenue Lakeshore Learning experienced after implementing a range of SLI solutions, or the 10% sales lift Boden saw after implementing SLI Dynamic Product Banners.

We timed the launch of our new brand to coincide with several important events in the next week, including 2014 in Seattle Sep. 29 – Oct., the SLI Connect customer summit in Seattle on Oct. 2, and the E-Commerce Expo in London Oct. 1-2. If you’re not joining us at any of these events, I hope you’ll browse the rich array of on-demand webinars, e-books and case studies available on our website at, or connect with us on social media. We look forward to hearing from you!



Back-To-School Shoppers Search for Charts, Magnets and… Common Core?

September 24, 2014 - 18:07

Nothing softens the summer’s end and back-to-school blues like a little retail therapy. According to eMarketer, online shoppers spent more than $50 billion during the 2014 back-to-school shopping season, which represents a 16% gain from $43.3 billion in 2013. Sixteen percent!

A key aspect of the back-to-school shopping blitz is of course school supply shopping – and purchasing materials online is becoming more and more convenient for time-strapped families and teachers.

To uncover the most highly sought after school supplies driving unprecedented online sales for the 2014-2015 school year, SLI’s data team analyzed more than 33 million searches conducted between June 1 and August 22, 2014. We looked at three popular U.S. online retailers selling office and school supplies, including instructional materials. These e-commerce retailers are SLI customers that use our site search software to ensure thousands of products are easy for educators, parents, and office managers alike, to find and purchase.

Our analysis revealed that teachers and parents were busy readying classrooms, supply kits, and bookshelves with a variety of materials, from charts to stickers. The most popular items searched for were “chart pocket” at 96,000+ searches, “magnet” with 88,800+ searches, and “calendar” with close to 76,000 searches. Trailing down the top 20 list, we saw that “pencils” garnered 40,800 searches and “Dr. Seuss” more than 32,000.

Common Core Materials

A not too surprising discovery among the site search data analyses was the volume of interest around the term “Common Core,” indicating that many teachers – and possibly parents as well – searched for materials related to the mandated, yet controversial standard.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is an educational initiative in the U.S., currently adopted by 44 of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, that details what students in K-12 grades should know in English, history, social studies, science and mathematics at the end of each grade. It seeks to establish consistent educational standards across the states and ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter college programs or the workforce.

Our data analysis revealed that during the back-to-school season, there were more than 72,000 searches for “Common Core.” Digging deeper into the numbers, we found:

  • Top Five States – Site searches originated most from CA (with nearly 3x that of the next state), followed by NY, IL, and FL with between 4,200 to nearly 5,000 searches each, and then GA with 3,000+ searches.
  • Top Five Grades – While 75% of the searches conducted for “Common Core” did not include a specific grade, “Common Core + 2nd grade” garnered the most interest with 4,500+ searches, followed by 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, which averaged 3,300 searches each. First grade saw just shy of 2,000 searches.

A value add of SLI is that we provide online retail retailers with insight regarding the products consumers are seeking. Accordingly, vendors know which products to stock and can promote those items consumers are most likely to buy. And through our easy-to-use search, consumers can readily find the merchandise they desire and get recommendations on related products that they may have overlooked, leading to a truly rewarding shopping experience.

Visit our library of best-practice case studies to see how SLI helps leading e-commerce retailers accelerate sales by connecting shoppers with the products they’re most likely to buy.

Get Face-to-Face with E-Commerce Peers at SLI Connect

September 18, 2014 - 19:05

Technology allows us to connect with anyone anywhere more easily than ever before, but there’s still something special about face-to-face meetings. The quality of communication is better when you meet someone physically, and that enhanced connection continues long after the in-person meeting.

My theory is that you form a more complete mental model of an individual when you meet them in person and that model improves your future communication, whether it’s on the phone, via email or on a video conference. We see this time and time again when SLI team members visit each other in our global offices, and it’s why I’m excited to be traveling to Seattle next week for our customer summit, SLI Connect.

We held our inaugural customer summit in London earlier this year and it had a wonderful feeling of community. We intend to replicate this in Seattle. SLI Connect will give our customers the opportunity to plan strategies, learn from peers and give direct feedback to members of the SLI executive team.

An Invitation to Connect

We planned SLI Connect to coincide with 2014. So, after you’ve networked with thousands of your peers at and are teeming with inspiring e-commerce solutions and ideas, you can connect with SLI, face-to-face, to start putting those ideas to work. You’ll have the opportunity to strategize with your customer success manager and account manager on how to increase your online sales. You’ll hear how your peers have done this already and how SLI can help. You’ll be able to give us direct insight into your upcoming priorities and get a sneak peek into our product roadmap.

I hope you can join us for this full day of valuable insights as we continue to build and foster SLI’s growing community of more than 800 e-commerce sites.

Here’s the Who, What, When, Where and How of SLI Connect:

WHO/WHAT: SLI Connect is a day of learning and sharing ways to accelerate your e-commerce strategy and sales through the holiday season and into 2015. The full-day agenda includes:

  • E-commerce trends talk with SLI CEO Shaun Ryan and SLI CTO Wayne Munro
  • Industry panel with Alicia Fiorletta, editor of Retail Touchpoints
  • Retailer presentations with best practices for site search, navigation, SEO, mobile and more:
    • Sam Sarullo of Lakeshore Learning talks about how SLI helped Lakeshore increase online sales by 30%
    • Lisa Dahlke of Silver Star Brands shares how Silver Star uses SLI to help customers find products from their tens of thousands of SKUs
    • Sneak peek into the SLI product roadmap
    • Drinks, dining, interactive discussions and plenty of networking

WHEN: Thurs, October 2, 2014 – after (kick-off dinner the prior evening of Oct 1)

WHERE: The Hyatt Olive 8 at 1635 8th Ave in downtown Seattle

HOW: Click here to secure your free registration for SLI Connect today!


SLI Systems’ CEO Takes ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

September 11, 2014 - 20:34

There is one more celeb Silicon Valley hasn’t seen take the #ALSIceBucketChallenge yet: our very own CEO Shaun Ryan! After Kim K finally responded to her fans to take the challenge this week, Shaun knew he couldn’t let his team down. Thanks again to Nextopia for nominating SLI Systems for this great cause, which raises awareness and funds for ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

As any fearless leader would, Shaun bravely accepted the challenge on behalf of the company. Here is the video for your enjoyment!

Shaun Ryan Takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in Downtown San Jose

We nominate our partners Magento, ROI Magazine, and Gorilla Group to take the challenge next. You’re up, and good luck!

As of September 11, the ALSA has received $112 million in Ice Bucket Challenge donations from 3 million donors! To learn more about the challenge and the fight to treat and cure ALS, visit

E-Commerce Sales Growing, but We Can Do Better Than 9%

September 4, 2014 - 18:31

Each year, online sales take a bigger slice of the ‘total retail sales’ pie. This year, analyst firm Forrester expects e-commerce sales in the United States to reach $294 billion, a small 9% slice of all sales in the country. That means that 91% of retail sales still occur in brick-and-mortar stores. The question is: can e-commerce do better? Can e-commerce grab a larger slice of that pie by making simple changes? A recent large-scale study on e-commerce search by the Baymard Institute says YES.

“When e-commerce search works, it’s fast, convenient and efficient. It’s no wonder that so many users prefer searching over clicking categories. Unfortunately, our recent study finds that search often doesn’t work very well,” said Christian Holst, Baymard Institute co-founder.

The Baymard Institute found:

  • 16% of e-commerce sites do not support searching by product name or model number
  • 18% of sites provide no useful results if the product name was off by a single character
  • 70% require users to search by the exact jargon for the product type that the site uses, failing to return relevant products for “blow dryer” if “hair dryer” is typed
  • Searches with symbols and abbreviations are not supported by 60% of e-commerce sites
  • Only 40% of sites have faceted search, despite it being essential to e-commerce search because it is the foundation of contextual filters

Consistent with Baymard Institute findings, our own SLI study conducted last year found that 57% of e-commerce brands were not using their site search data to enhance marketing campaigns. Only 25% of retailers integrated site search data into email marketing campaigns to better customize offers; 27% created SEO landing pages populated with site search results and custom banners; and only 13% took advantage of site search to power mobile search.

It’s also interesting to note that amid generally weak Q2 earnings, the retail giants that announced spikes in e-commerce sales ranked as having excellent site search in Baymard’s search study:

  • #2 Wal-Mart global e-commerce grew 24%, heavily contributing to a $3.2 billion increase
  • #4 Wayfair, multinational e-retailer, reported a 50% YOY increase to total $574 million
  • #5 Sears, multinational department store chain, reported strongest sales came from e-commerce
  • #11 Staples, the world’s largest office-supply chain, grew its web sales 8%
  • #13 The Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the U.S., increased its online sales 38% to $1 billion

The take-away? The e-commerce industry can do better than 9%. As more e-commerce sites optimize site search, online shopping experiences will improve and e-commerce will gain a greater share of the $1.7 trillion retail pie.

To see how small changes in your site can significantly impact revenue, schedule a demo with an SLI Systems sales director.