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There’s no question. Site search isn’t sexy, but it doesn’t have to be, because the revenue it drives speaks for itself. Internet Retailer Senior Editor Thad Reuter said it best in his February article, Reading Shoppers’ Minds:
“Site search receives little in the way of celebrity-level attention in e-commerce… But with retailers typically reporting two or three times the amount of conversions for site search users, the stakes are obvious: Better site search can translate into more profits.” Period.
However, one question still remains: Which site search approach best connects shoppers with the products they’re most likely to buy, making shopping easier and retailers more profitable? Do online shoppers use natural language search, which interprets subjective terms to serve up search results? Or do the most relevant search results come from learning site search, which “learns” what specific search terms resonate most with consumers and – with SLI Learning SearchTM technology – reranks the order of search results based on the latest activity of users?
In e-commerce, there is some uncertainty around the demand for natural language search. North Face e-commerce manager, Charles Caison, told Internet Retailer, “At North Face, for instance, most shoppers search using terms that describe the product, not ambiguous phrases that require natural language processing to decode. It may be that we have been trained by Internet search engines for keyword searches rather than natural language searches.”
A new SLI study also supports Caison’s insight. To demonstrate site search user behavior today, SLI evaluated natural language terms, focusing on subjective search terms including “cheap,” “nice” and “cute” for a Fortune 100 retailer. As you can see in the chart below, out of 67,000 searches, the word “quality” was only used 3 times while “cheap” and “nice” had similar results. The findings reveal that subjective search terms are not yet commonly used among online shoppers.Total searches performed ~67k Searches containing “cheap” 11 Searches containing “quality” (high-quality) 3 Searches containing “nice” 0 Searches containing “cute” 42
Lakeshore Learning, an IR Top 500 company, also finds less use of natural language search from its shoppers. Lakeshore Vice President of E-commerce Sam Sarullo told Internet Retailer, “an analysis of the retailer’s top 1,000 searches revealed that consumers use an average of 1.8 words to search – a signal that consumers remain wedded to keyword search, and that natural language-type searches may not yet be intuitive. That said, I see return customers who are more familiar with our products using these natural language or long-tail searches.”
The beauty of Learning SearchTM is that if it detects shoppers’ use of longer search terms, it will “learn” and tweak its results to reflect that behavior. Learning Search continuously analyzes the terms and phrases that prove most popular and lead conversions.
Perhaps the best argument for the value of Learning Search is to let e-commerce companies’ results speak for themselves. Here are some of the results leading retailers have experienced using Learning Search:
- Lakeshore Learning, an education supplies manufacturer: 30% increase in online sales
- Boden, a British clothing retailer: 1.8x higher conversion rate using search
- e.l.f. Cosmetics, an international cosmetics brand: 21% higher per-visit value using search
- Marine Depot, world’s #1 supplier of aquarium supplies: 11% increase in revenue
- SurfStitch, Australia’s #1 surf retailer: 30% improvement in page position for organic search
Some say “sex sells,” but in e-commerce, Learning Search sells more.
Does your retail operation manage both online and brick and mortar shopping experiences? If so, you understand the importance of showing shoppers a wide variety of products online, while also giving them the option to find their desired product locally where they can see it, try it in person and perhaps pick it up the same day.
A popular way to provide these options to shoppers is to use geospatial information to localize the online shopping experience. By allowing geospatial queries, retailers can offer location-based searching and navigation so that shoppers can:
Filter and Order Search Results by Distance
Retailers can allow customers to see the availability of products within a geographic range, narrowing results by the distance they’re willing to travel for the item. Additionally, retailers can order results by distance so that products located closer to the specified area are listed first in search results.
Shop by Store Location
This feature lets customers view results for products that are available at a particular store location. This can come in handy if customers are more interested in seeing products at the location closest to them. Some retailers carry different inventory in various stores or have a wider inventory online. Allowing shoppers to search by store location provides a specific, localized and convenient online shopping experience.
Andersen Windows, the largest manufacturer of windows and doors in the U.S., uses a store locator map on their site to show the closest stores where their products are sold.
Show Search Results in Map View
The easiest way to convey information about location is through a map. Showing shoppers where product inventory is located and giving them the ability to see more or less based on geographic perimeters provides a richer and very intuitive search experience.
Show Available Inventory on Product Detail Pages
When shoppers view a product detail page, retailers can provide additional information about the closest local stores where the inventory is located. This is especially helpful for shoppers who want to examine the item in person before a purchase or for those that need it quickly. It can also be helpful for products that are difficult to ship due to size or weight.
Giving shoppers a localized shopping experience streamlines their ability to find and buy products in a way that is most convenient for their needs. It’s an easy way to add tremendous value to shoppers by showing information that is directly relevant to them – it also improves the chance for a sale.
SLI supports geospatial queries in the ways listed above to help retailers create a stronger omnichannel connection between their physical and online stores.
With Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, many are asking which team is most popular. The Seahawks and Patriots are not only competing for the championship, but also for most die-hard fans. Do Seahawks fans really put Patriots fans to shame? Did ‘DeflateGate’ have any impact on fan loyalties? SLI Systems was eager to set the record straight and find out “Where The Fans Are” with a state-by-state look at Patriots’ and Seahawks’ popularity.
To determine the states’ loyalties, SLI studied more than 300,000 Super Bowl product-related searches taking place between January 1 and January 25, 2015 across 32 U.S. sporting goods and apparel retailers. While many devoted fans might be tempted to root against teams that take them out of championship, SLI uncovered that fans actually remain loyal to their region’s respective Conference (with a few exceptions). SLI’s “Where the Fans Are” map shows where all 50 states’ loyalties lie.
Not surprising, Seahawks-branded products were most sought by fans in northwestern states; and, with the exception of Alabama, Iowa and Wisconsin, fans in states on the eastern half of the U.S. favored Patriots-branded products.
What was noteworthy was that fans in Wisconsin (home of the Green Bay Packers, which lost to the Seahawks in the NFC championship) searched more for Seahawks than Patriots items. And, fans in Indiana (home of the Colts, which lost to the Patriots in the AFC championship) most sought Patriots items. Online shopping behavior shows that AFC/NFC Conference loyalty is stronger than getting revenge on past losses – and in turn, fans across the country searched for merchandise for the teams and players they know best. It seems that for Super Bowl XLIX, team loyalty takes a backseat to simple team familiarity.
For an interesting comparison, take a look at the map and infographic from last year’s SLI Super Bowl E-commerce Study. When the Seahawks faced off against Denver in 2014, Wisconsin also stood out among other midwest states in their online shopping preference for Seahawks gear. And most New England fans that are searching for Patriots items this year were searching for Seahawks items last year.
Whichever team you’re rooting for, I hope you enjoy the Big Game!
At the beginning of each year, many people ask me what trends to expect in e-commerce technology for the year ahead. For 2015, I see vast opportunities for increased personalization in the online shopping experience.
Most retailers do a poor job of personalization because they don’t know enough information about their customers, or because the information they have is poor quality. Their knowledge is limited to what they can gather through the interactions customers have with them, which are inevitably a small part of shoppers’ total retail experiences – plus they often lack context.
An example of failed personalization is when I recently logged on to Amazon and saw an array of suggested romance novels – not because I’ve read or purchased them, but because my wife did so using my account. Although Amazon has information about a lot of purchases made on my account, they don’t know who those purchases are for. Other retailers know even less about me than Amazon does and are likely to make even worse recommendations.
As an industry, I think we can do a lot better with personalization.
Customers Expect a Personalized Experience
Shoppers enjoy having a seamless shopping experience. For example, in our core competency areas of search, navigation and recommendations, if these work well then they’re almost invisible to shoppers – shoppers just know that they’re getting what they want quickly and with minimal effort. There is an opportunity to use personal information to improve this experience further. Most online shoppers are willing to have a site gather and store personal information about them if they know that it will benefit them in the future. For instance:
- In a study by ClickFox, more than 80 percent of respondents said they expected retailers to know their purchase history and past consumer experiences
- In a survey by Accenture, 73 percent of consumers said they prefer doing business with retailers who use personal information to make their shopping experience more relevant
While consumers expect and prefer the personalized shopping experience, they also want the ability to control how their personal information is used. Trust is also a critical factor, and retailers can best earn customers’ trust by consistently providing secure and positive shopping experiences.
Personalization is a Priority for SLI Systems
At SLI Systems, advances in personalization are among our high priorities for the coming year. In supporting more than 1.5 billion search queries last month, we have a wealth of insight into search and conversion patterns for shoppers around the globe. When we combine that knowledge with our team’s decades of expertise in site search and navigation, there’s a lot we can do to continue improving the ways we help shoppers quickly and easily find what they want to buy.
We also have customized solutions for customers that want to auto-filter based on gender or other previously-gathered customer information. For example, when you navigate on BodenUSA.com to the women’s section of the site – then perform a search for “shoes” – the SLI engine remembers you’re looking at women’s products and keeps you in that section for your subsequent searches, unless you specify otherwise.
There’s a lot more we can and will do with personalization. I look forward to unveiling future products and features that bring personalized shopping to an entirely new level.
Tomorrow, please join me and Lakeshore Learning VP of E-commerce Sam Sarullo for the webinar “The Shopping Experience of the Future,” where we’ll talk more about personalization and other trends for 2015. The webinar takes place at 11 a.m. PDT on Wednesday, January 28. Please register here at least two hours prior.
The customer is key — particularly in today’s social commerce environment. Faced with tough economic conditions, increased competition, and more informed and demanding customers, businesses must provide a superior customer experience. According to a Dimensional Research survey, 95% of respondents who have had a negative experience told someone about it or socialised it. Alternatively, 87% who had a good experience neglected to share it with anyone. This means providing a positive customer experience is essential for the success and continuation of your business.
In the Business to Business (B2B) market, actively managing customer relationships is vital. A single customer — or just a few — can significantly impact the success or even the very existence of a business. Forrester research shows that the Internet has changed the way companies do business and many now offer their products as services, instead of physical objects. This has moved businesses away from a capital expenditure-based model to the “subscription” model, thus creating a long-term customer relationship through trust and rapport. Essentially, the economic value of a customer is realised over time, instead of an up-front, one-time transaction.
The subscription economy, also known as ‘the age of the customer,’ has given the customer more control over the companies they chose to engage with for business. Customers that stay loyal to a brand can be more demanding, and if unhappy they can more readily move onto another brand. As a result, actively managing customer relationships to ensure satisfaction has become key to the success of B2B companies, particularly those supporting the e-commerce space.
The Customer Success Management Model is fast becoming the best way to provide customer support. It also ensures a company’s customers are successful with the products and able to realise the economic value from their investments. As a trusted advisor, a Customer Success Manager is dedicated to actively managing and engaging with the customer to help achieve the desired outcome.
Zogby International shows that 83% of people are willing to spend more on a product or service if they feel a personal connection to the company. For many organisations, this connection and personal interaction can be via the Customer Success Manager. One-fifth of adults surveyed said they would spend 50% more on companies that they felt put the customer first. Growth in customer loyalty and spend, increased positive word of mouth and minimal customer churn have all been witnessed as a result of positive customer experiences.
We can see an example of the impact of Customer Success Managers with Omnichannel retailer Super Retail Group, one of Australia’s top 10 specialty retailers with more than 600 stores and annual revenue in excess of $2 billion. The group has operations in Australia, New Zealand and China, and is home to Amart Sports, BCF Boating Camping Fishing, FCO Fishing Camping Outdoors, Ray’s Outdoors, Rebel, and Supercheap Auto. Super Retail Group’s online businesses work closely with Customer Success Managers from SLI Systems to improve their customers’ online shopping experiences and to boost e-commerce sales.
Elizabeth Emery, Group Web & E-Commerce Manager of Super Retail Group explains: “SLI was able to implement their site search solution on our Supercheap Auto, BCF, Rays Outdoors and FCO desktop and mobile sites within six weeks from when we signed off on the project. This was at a crucial time, leading up to our busy Christmas period. SLI was extremely dutiful and responsive. Post implementation, their flexible support model has allowed us to roll out multiple enhancements at no additional cost. Having a dedicated Customer Success Manager that is local and in our time zone has made a world of difference. I am able to engage with SLI to ensure optimal usability of our sites.”
The Customer Success Management Model works in the favor of both the company and its customers. Providing a positive customer experience through speed and responsiveness enables a significant competitive advantage. Metrics published by Dell show that 97% of unsatisfied customers can be rescued with proactive intervention and more than 40% of those customers will then become brand advocates.
A good customer experience drives growth. In today’s business environment, where the value of a customer is realised over time, the duration of the customer relationship has enormous impact on the company, its revenue and its overall success. Over time, the Customer Success Management Model will be a differentiator for companies. Those that adapt will succeed, while those who refuse to reshape or neglect the idea of customer engagement will be left behind.
When it comes to holiday shopping, peak shopping days and times are experiencing a dramatic shift that could impact the timing of critical promotions. Consumers are shopping on days that were previously considered taboo for this type of activity, such as Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. It’s time for retailers to take note to ensure they don’t miss big opportunities to reach their buyers when they are actually shopping.
In Australia, it is well known that Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) is the peak shopping day of the year. Yet, according to a new SLI study, many consumers are starting their shopping on Christmas Day. SLI researched e-commerce site activity across 100 Australian retailer sites, analyzing 20 million queries over the month of December. Online shopping activity peaked at 8:00 p.m. AEDT on Christmas Day and 10:00 a.m. on Boxing Day. While Boxing Day exhibited 49.6 percent more activity than Christmas Day, the spike in shopping activity on Christmas night is certainly a new trend worth exploring.
In the U.S., similar shifts in shopping behavior occurred. Most notable was a spike in shopping activity at 10:00 p.m. EST Thanksgiving Day, the night before the renowned Black Friday. There was also a spike in shopping activity on November 30, the night before the busiest U.S. online shopping day, Cyber Monday. To gather these results, SLI studied e-commerce site activity across 500 retailer websites in the U.S. (100 were Internet Retailer Top 1,000 retailers), analyzing 45 million queries during Thanksgiving week.
Consumers (increasingly online night owls) are beating retailers to the punch on unexpected days and times. By timing key promotions accordingly, savvy online retailers can take advantage of these new opportunities and have a jump on their competition in 2015.
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.
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.
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.
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 Shop.org 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.
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 www.webpagetest.org, 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!
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?