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A commentary on the search industry from a site search vendor's perspective.
Updated: 2 hours 37 min ago

Amazon & You: How to Win

February 5, 2016 - 13:30

Last week SLI Systems sponsored the Internet Retailer webinar Amazon & You: Top New Competitive Strategies for 2016. eShopportunity founder Fahim Naim and Medelita CMO Dan Stephchew took a look at what is emerging as the best ways for online retailers to compete with Amazon.

The webinar was jam-packed with examples from the recent 2015 holiday shopping season (including how to gracefully opt out of Black Friday without killing your sales).

While Amazon is undeniably a Goliath, you can beat the e-commerce giant by turning its weaknesses into your strengths. Here are a few key takeaways:

Help shoppers find what they are looking for. Amazon isn’t the easiest place to shop. It can feel like you are wandering through a huge warehouse without a soul in sight to help you. You have little choice but to base your purchasing decisions on price and reviews.

Fahim advises, “Do a better job of helping customers engage and find relative products.”

An effective way of providing a more satisfying shopping experience is by delivering relevant site search results. Engage customers further by offering a product or gift finder, which suggests a collection of products based on a series of questions. This level of personalization is impossible to deliver via the Amazon interface and it allows you to build brand loyalty.

Treat shoppers differently. Amazon is one-size fits all. There is no room to massage your message for different audiences. As a result, you miss the opportunity to create tailored offers for different shoppers, like first-time buyers and loyal customers. You can outshine Amazon in this area by leveraging your email marketing with content and offers designed to reach specific shoppers.

Own long-tail search terms. It’s OK if Amazon wins broad keyword searches. Shoppers who find your site via long-tail search terms are more likely to find exactly what it is they want to buy. You can build landing pages specific to these keywords. (To learn more about this, check out the webinar Advanced Data Mining.)

For more competitive strategies, watch the Internet Retailer webinar. To see how SLI Systems can help you implement these strategies, join us for our next live demo on March 8.

EASY – A Deciding Factor for E-commerce Technology

January 28, 2016 - 14:00

Easy is a critical feature for today’s technology solutions – easy-to-implement, easy-to-use, easy-to-measure and easy-to-update. Of course solutions need to be effective and results are the number one point of comparison. But if you’re in the position of choosing technology and you’ve narrowed your options to those with proven results, you’re likely to choose the one that will make it easier for you or your team to achieve the results you want.

After all, there’s only so much you alone can do – you need technology that expands your abilities, rather than giving you one more thing that requires your expertise.

This is how Michael Schuler of the Minneapolis-based Schuler Shoes felt about the company’s website. A year ago, he was the only one who could customize merchandising banners and SEO since it required going into the code to make modifications. He knew this process wasn’t sustainable as the business expanded its product catalog. He needed a merchandising solution that was straightforward enough for anyone on his team to use – he needed it to be easy for his employees to edit promotions and optimize SEO.

Michael Schuler also needed a site search and navigation solution that would provide a consistent product-finding experience for shoppers. He wanted to make it easy for shoppers to find and buy what they were looking for.

At the same time, Schuler was moving the business to a new e-commerce platform and he needed a hosted site search and navigation provider that would easily integrate with the latest version of Magento.

Of course Schuler wanted the solution to work well – choosing a vendor with a solid history, reliable infrastructure and clear, proven results was a given. But easy was a key theme in his search for the right vendor. In the end, he chose SLI Systems as the best fit to achieve his goals. As stated in a case study on Schuler Shoes:

“We chose SLI because it fits well with Magento and offers the features we needed. SLI Learning Search Connect easily plugged into our Magento platform, quickly improving the shopping experience and simplifying merchandising and promotions,” said Schuler.

In fact, yesterday SLI Systems announced it’s the first and only Magento Gold Partner to offer a site search extension for Magento 2.0. Our commitment to “easy” meant that we wanted to have our plugin for Magento 2.0 ready as soon as our customers needed it.

Schuler also achieved his goals of making it easier for his team to manage merchandising and SEO, along with making it easier for shoppers to find the products they wanted.

“With SLI site search, navigation and refinements, we have seen 20% fewer bounces and a 7.5% increase in the time visitors spend on the site, indicating the solutions are helping customers in the ‘pre-shop’ phase before they buy from us in-store or online,” Schuler said.

If you’re in the position of choosing a new technology vendor, look for easy – easy-to-implement, easy-to-use, easy-to-measure and easy-to-update. Add easy-to-show results to this list (as we’ve done with our latest SLI Dashboard), and you’ll be set. Michael Schuler found a solution that was all this, plus provided better results than his previous solution. For him, it was an easy choice.

A New Look at the Shopper Journey – Introducing the SLI Dashboard

January 21, 2016 - 13:40

“Big data” is all the buzz. It’s a challenge to merchants and data providers alike. Complex calculations on large volumes of data can be fascinating to a programmer. But these aren’t just numbers – they represent real-life actions of people on a website. If we aren’t careful, our calculations can outsmart the spirit of these actions, resulting in meaningless (or at least misguided) data for merchandisers.

Recently we undertook a project to create a new dashboard for the SLI Merchandising and Reporting Console. With more than 100 metrics already available in our console, it would have been easy to present some of these and call it a day.

But we decided it was time for a fresh start. We talked to our customers about what was most important to them. Then we went further – all the way back to the basics. We examined our underlying calculations to ensure the way we tracked data considered customers on their shopping journey and not just purchases.

Many existing reporting systems, including our own, count events like transactions and compare them to other events like page or session counts. But tracking events in isolation doesn’t always reflect how shoppers behave. Consider a shopper who starts browsing in the early evening, breaks for dinner and returns to make a purchase after putting the kids to bed or the shopper who has a late-night browsing habit and completes her purchase after midnight. Many analytics simplify and examine activity based on a set time period. As a result, each of the previous examples would likely be considered as two sessions – one that failed to convert and one that succeeded – when in actuality each was a single shopper.

A session-focused versus shopper-focused model can cause e-commerce sites to worry needlessly about conversion rates when in actuality the trouble is with how their analytics views the data.

Another example of analytics skewing reality is when a customer completes a transaction and then realizes he forgot something and makes a second purchase. Should one customer be treated as two just because he completed a second transaction? When considering conversions, is a shopper who transacts twice buying one item each time really more valuable than the shopper buying two items in a single transaction? We don’t think so.

The new SLI Dashboard now includes shopper-focused attribution. As a result, SLI looks at all of a shopper’s activity in the 24 hours leading up to a transaction, regardless of when it occurred. A site visitor with activity before midnight that continues into the next day is counted once, and multiple conversions from a single customer are treated as one successful conversion.

Conversion rate and average order value are critical measures of your e-commerce site. You need them to be an accurate representation of how many people successfully found what they were looking for, how many items people bought and how much they spent. The new SLI Dashboard provides a real-life view of how your customers are interacting with your site. In a world of numbers and calculations, let’s remember our customers are people too.

Refining Your Site Navigation (Part 2)

January 13, 2016 - 14:10

As we discussed last week, the purpose of refinements is to allow shoppers to find what they are looking for more quickly. By indicating specific characteristics to narrow down the number of options shown in a category, visitors don’t have to scroll through pages of products to find the right one.

There are some simple ways you can deliver an exceptional shopping experience through your refinements.

Consider a Color Palette

Color palettes provide a visually appealing way to show color options for a particular product. Plus, it takes the guess work out of identifying colors with names like vermilion (a reddish orange) or verdigris (a yellowish green). Color palettes are often displayed on the left column with other refinements.

Show Products in the Right Color

Display products in the color shoppers requested. For example, if the default image for a shirt is red, but it is also offered in blue, show the blue shirt when shoppers refine the category to blue.

If your product is available in several colors, let visitors see the color options from the navigation page. One effective way of doing this is to allow visitors to hover over the color palettes directly under the picture of the product. The color of the product changes, while other products on the page remain unchanged.

Use Images

The human brain processes images faster than text. Consider using images to signal certain refinements, such as apparel type (dresses, shirts, pants), brands, ratings, colors and shapes. Of course, images won’t work for some refinements, so use your judgment. Make sure the images you use are clear and simple, so your customers won’t be left guessing.

Use Easy-to-understand Navigational Images

If you use navigational images to identify subcategories, make sure they are easy to understand. You want to make sure shoppers don’t accidentally confuse the subcategory images for the product selection.

Provide the following visual cues:

  • Show products as well as subcategories
  • Include the number of results for each subcategory
  • Label the subcategory images clearly
  • Distinguish between the layout of your products and subcategories

Offer Multiple Ways to Unselect Refinements

Let visitors easily change and remove refinements. Customers may want to navigate to the top or up one or several levels within a category. Use a Show All link or a breadcrumb trail to enable a quick link back to a category page or higher navigation levels. Breadcrumb trails help visitors see
 exactly where they are on the site and what refinements have been used.

Another best practice is to use an X or checkmark beside the selected refinements. This allows visitors to easily remove a refinement selection without deleting all the selected refinements and gives shoppers the flexibility they need to find the item they’re looking for. A Clear All option offers a quick “back-to-the-top” navigation alternative.

For more tips on how to improve your site navigation, download our Big Book of Navigation Tips.

Refining Your Site Navigation (Part 1)

January 6, 2016 - 14:10

Refinements allow visitors to quickly narrow down their product selections as they travel through your site. This is one of the best ways (aside from using the search box) that visitors express to you exactly what they want.

The right use of refinements can make the shopping journey easy and intuitive. From broad category pages, you can break down choices into more specific subcategories. On a furniture site, for example, shoppers might start with the Living Room category then navigate to Sofa and Armchairs, Coffee and Side Tables or Living Room Lighting, depending on what they need.

In addition, providing refinements for brand, price, style and color can help shoppers pinpoint the products they had in mind. In my next two blog posts I will outline some practical ways refinements can help you improve your site navigation.

Don’t Show Too Many Refinements

Instead of showing every possible refinement (which can overwhelm shoppers), examine your analytics to see which refinements are used the most and which are hardly used at all. For example, do you really need the option to refine jeans by the number of pockets? If it is useful to your visitors, then show this option only when it’s relevant. A simple list of refinements versus a convoluted one increases your chances of improving your conversion rates.

Only Show Refinements with Results

Show relevant refinements for each category and make sure each refinement option contains results. You may be tempted to provide general refinements across your site for all category pages, but this can lead to a frustrating shopping experience. For example, you wouldn’t want to provide a refine-by-color option if an item is only available in one hue.

Show the Number of Products for Each Refinement

By indicating the number of products for each refinement, shoppers quickly understand how many results they can expect to find under each option. This guides them to consider other refinements if necessary and assures them they have seen all possible products.

Provide Different Ways of Ranking Products

Let visitors easily re-rank the criteria for how products are shown. Shoppers might want to view products by best sellers, highest rated, new arrivals, most expensive or least expensive. As a default, show products in order of most relevant or most popular. Once a visitor chooses a new order, remember the preference to spare him or her the hassle and frustration of re-ranking products on each category page.

For more tips on how to improve your site navigation, download our Big Book of Navigation Tips.

A Spending Miracle

December 30, 2015 - 18:00

Like a good little elf, I started Christmas shopping in October. But despite my weekly purchases all the way through Super Saturday and Sunday, retail sales were reportedly sluggish throughout the holiday season.

People noticed that the malls weren’t quite as manic on Black Friday. Maybe because “Black Friday” deals stretched into early November or perhaps because significantly more people were shopping online.

Like many, my holiday shopping included a combination of in-store and online purchases, gifts for others and items for myself. I shopped with my phone in hand, often checking both prices and reviews when I was in a store or late-night browsing before bed.

Without a sleigh of my own and with family scattered across the country, the convenience of buying online and shipping directly to recipients provided an added bonus of skipping the lines at the post office to mail presents.

Yet, hours before the clock struck Christmas, there was strong doubt that retailers would hit the 3.7% rise forecasted by the National Retail Federation for in-store and online sales.

On Christmas Eve, Reuters reported “U.S. retailers at risk of missing modest holiday sales goals.”

Santa must have needed some last-minute gifts because the numbers reported this week – with Christmas Day behind us – reveal a sort of spending miracle (and proof that I wasn’t the only one shopping).

Holiday spending is up, and online shopping was a winner,” declared the Boston Globe.

Retail sales were up 7.9% – more than double what was expected – according to data released by MasterCard SpendingPulse, which does not reveal dollars spent.

Not surprising, online retailers ended up on the Nice List with a 20% surge in sales compared to the same Black-Friday-to-Christmas-Eve timeframe as last year, according to the SpendingPulse report.

It seems Santa likes the convenience of online shopping, too.

For the latest in e-commerce news, trends and best practices, explore the SLI Knowledge Base.

Dressbarn Wins Award for Customer Engagement Success Using SLI

December 16, 2015 - 19:13

This year, industry-leading retail magazine Retail TouchPoints recognized 18 innovative retailers with a 2015 Customer Engagement Award. According to Retail TouchPoints, each winner has gone the extra mile to delight, surprise and satisfy shoppers. SLI is honored to be recognized with Dressbarn, the Silver Winner in the E-Commerce Innovation category.

“Customer engagement has become a key focus for retailers striving for success in today’s omnichannel world,” said Retail TouchPoints Editor-in-Chief Debbie Hauss. “The award winners are ahead of the curve and are achieving business success in this increasingly competitive marketplace.”

Among the winners this year, Dressbarn joins retail giants AT&T, Barneys New York, Kate Spade, Kohl’s, Payless ShoeSource and Pep Boys.

Dressbarn Uses SLI Learning Search to Create Great Omnichannel Customer Experiences

A major priority for Dressbarn is to always provide a great customer experience, regardless of the channel. One way the retailer continues its mission is to use SLI Learning Search® (and search data) to offer its customers a unified, seamless experience, making it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for across all channels.


Dressbarn pays close attention to online trends, monitoring site search activity and on-page analytics, to optimize landing pages, PPC ads, email campaigns, site search and more. For instance, this past summer, Dressbarn saw a spike in search volume and conversion on the keyword Camryn dress. Dressbarn used its top-performing keywords report to identify the Camryn dress as a product to feature across channels to take advantage of its recent popularity.

Dressbarn quickly created a landing page using SLI Landing Page Creator™ just for the Camryn dress and then promoted it via the home page, email campaign and PPC ads. With search data in hand, Dressbarn also was able to fine-tune the page’s meta tags for better SEO. Conversion rates and sales soon skyrocketed.


Dressbarn also provides its customers with a mobile-friendly experience. To adapt to the physical limitations of the mobile user experience, the retailer implemented SLI Mobile’s prominent search bar (vs. tiny magnifying glass) and easy-to-select refinements on search and navigation pages (e.g. color, size), speeding the shoppers’ path to purchase. The retailer also resizes all images into thumbnails, increasing the page load speed and customer engagement.

On its mobile site, Dressbarn has seen noteworthy results engaging customers and increasing conversion with SLI Rich Auto Complete™. Rich Auto Complete™ delivers a search experience with fast, visual and dynamic results. Shoppers are able to type less and buy more. With Rich Auto Complete, the time it took a shopper to find a product and complete a purchase decreased significantly, and mobile site search usage increased by 25 percent.


At Dressbarn brick-and-mortar stores, the retailer offers associates and shoppers an endless inventory of products and information via iPads on display. If a product isn’t on the rack at the time, customers are able to use site search to look up the product, review the product description and get a clear idea of how it would look. This was a unique opportunity to use Dressbarn’s digital properties to make its stores more effective and its customers more informed and engaged.

For Dressbarn, it’s not all about making the sale right at that instant, but about building a seamless and delightful omnichannel experience that creates loyal customers who love Dressbarn and want to have a life-long relationship with the retailer.

Congratulations again to Dressbarn for a well-deserved win.

To learn more about Dressbarn’s winning merchandising strategies, view recent SLI webinar with Dressbarn E-Commerce Marketing Manager Sri PV: Merchandising Matters.

Are Gender Filters Necessary to Search for Toys?

December 10, 2015 - 17:02

It was an interesting move when Toys R Us removed the gender filters from its UK website. There has been pressure for toy retailers to do this to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes and Toys R Us obviously decided that this is best for their company. It’s interesting because it is potentially damaging the user experience, making it harder for customers to find the toy that they want.

In my opinion this won’t be the case. I really don’t think that people need a gender facet when searching for toys. The blogger that wrote this article agrees: “My Son Likes Barbie. That Doesn’t Make Him a Girl.” On the other hand, I suspect it will have little impact on changing the behavior of toy buyers.

In fact, this change may actually improve the user experience. It really has nothing to do with gender-based stereotypes but instead with user design. If the gender filter is indeed not necessary for finding the toys you want, then removing it will simplify the search and navigation pages, meaning the user can spend slightly more of their cognitive load on making a purchased decision, rather than on assessing which, if any of the filters they should select.

Assuming Toys R Us has personalized recommendations, it will be interesting to see if the machine learning algorithms behind these will reinforce the gender stereotypes. I suspect, to the disappointment of the pressure groups and Toys R Us, this will be the case.

Black Friday’s 2015 E-commerce Shift

December 3, 2015 - 18:57

As the biggest shopping week of the holiday season draws to an end, the numbers are in. Exceeding analyst forecasts across the board, e-commerce sales soared, increasing 15%-16% due to sharp spikes on both Black Friday – traditionally a brick-and-mortar event – and Cyber Monday. In fact, Cyber Monday 2015 set a record as the biggest online sales day EVER, bringing in $3.07 billion!

Curious to see how search query volume stacked up this year, SLI analyzed more than 340 million queries across 500+ North American online stores. We are thankful to report that people were still mostly focused on family and food this Thanksgiving, as this Turkey Day (and the following Saturday) brought in the least amount of online activity during the 2015 Thanksgiving-to-Cyber Monday holiday timeframe. Family time FTW!

Of course all bets are off once folks wake up on Black Friday. Aligned with the day’s online sales surge, SLI data showed that Black Friday is spilling into the e-commerce world in a big way! While Cyber Monday still experienced the most online activity – nearly double that of Thanksgiving – SLI found Cyber Monday only brought in 11% more activity than new online heavy-hitter Black Friday.

According to the NRF, nearly 102 million people say they shopped in stores on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, BUT more than 103 million say they shopped online during this two-day stretch. Internet Retailer reported that “e-commerce accounted for $822 million spent in the first 11 hours of Black Friday, and discounts were mounting as online retailers jockeyed for position.” Ultimately, shoppers spent a whopping $2.72 billion online during Black Friday (14% more than in 2014).

In addition, much like our 2014 holiday study, night owls are consistently e-retailers’ most active shoppers. The peak online shopping hour was Cyber Monday at 10:00 p.m. EST. On Thanksgiving Day, the peak shopping hour was also 10:00 p.m. EST. Year-over-year, the exception has been Black Friday with a peak shopping hour of 12:00 Noon EST.

For e-commerce retailers, being ready for these shifting trends in peak days and hours is crucial to ensure they can reach their buyers and avoid site stress. This year Neiman Marcus, Target, and PayPal suffered extended outages that negatively impacted both sales and customer loyalty. Based on this year’s performance, we expect Black Friday to be neck-and-neck with Cyber Monday in 2016. Make sure your site is ready for this surge, and don’t forget to time-critical promotions for all those late-night shoppers out there.

For a 30-minute course on how better site search can keep your shoppers happy (and spending) through the rest of the holiday season and beyond, see our latest video presentation, Best Practices for E-commerce Site Search.

A Surge in Query Volume is Coming

November 24, 2015 - 17:09

This morning (when I was supposed to be sleeping, but wasn’t because of jet lag), Flipboard popped up an article about Google’s scale that mentioned Google serves 1.2 trillion searches per year. That’s a lot! In the last year, SLI served over 15 billion searches across our more than 1,000 customer sites, which is about an 80th of what Google reportedly served. Given these numbers, I’m sure that across the web the number of searches within websites is higher than the number of searches on Google, Bing and the other web search engines.

With Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up, SLI expects to serve more searches in the next seven days than any other week of the year. Thanksgiving is very much an American holiday, but the retail events surrounding it have become an international phenomenon. Retailers around the world take advantage of the opportunity to boost their holiday programs. Last year we saw large query volumes from our Brazilian retailer customers. UK retailers are jumping on the trend with £1.9 billion forecast to be sold in Black Friday sales.

The SLI team has been working to ensure we have plenty of capacity to meet the peak query volumes across the more than 1,000 sites that we power. In measuring search activity during Thanksgiving weekend last year, we found the highest day during this surge in shopping resulted in about 2.7x the normal number of queries. But the real peak is when the sales first open, the emails are sent and people rush to get the best deals. During a recent pre-Black Friday sale we saw the per-minute query volumes hit 200x their normal level.

Especially at this time of year, it’s vital that retailers’ infrastructure is ready to handle these peaks. SLI customers can rest assured: we are ready and waiting.

Retailers: Get Ready to Sell Rain Gear (and More)

November 19, 2015 - 14:20

In drought-drenched California, we are preparing for an extra holiday guest. But instead of washing sheets for the air mattress, we are fixing leaks and clearing gutters. El Niño, a climate event defined by warmer than usual Pacific Ocean temperatures that affects global weather patterns, is expected to bring heavy rains over the next few months to California as well as the entire southern tier of the U.S.

According to NOAA, this year’s El Niño is one of the strongest on record. Parts of California could see 40-50% more rain than average while Florida could get 70% more rain.

While some might wait and see, the wise will no longer ignore long-neglected winter chores.

What does this mean for retailers? Folks have a legitimate weather-induced excuse reason to shop. (You think I’m kidding, but I just bought myself three pairs of boots.) Here are some ways you can capture the attention of shoppers preparing for El Niño:

Treat El Niño like its own retail season. Look at your products with fresh eyes and think about what people might need to buy during an extra rainy season. Yes, people might want boots, hats, gloves, jackets, umbrellas and waterproof socks. But they might also need floor mats, windshield wipers, rain barrels, tarps, sand bags, heavy plastic sheets, generators and sump pumps. Parents will need activities for kids who are cooped up inside for days at a time. And let’s not forget the best in rain-proof beauty products, such as waterproof mascara and anti-frizz hair products.

If you sell anything your shoppers might want to weather the upcoming storms or make cabin fever more manageable, make sure they know what you’ve got. All the best practices of merchandising apply. Highlight special deals on El Niño-related items. Recommend products based on what shoppers are searching for. Curate landing pages to showcase your entire El Niño-related product selection.

Provide how-to guides. The Los Angeles Times offered readers 28 things to do to prepare for El Niño rains this season. The list includes must-do tasks for your home, garden and car. Many are DIY projects. For example, No. 18 on the list: Plant winter vegetables in raised beds or elevated rows. If you specialize in home improvement, garden or auto supplies, share your expert advice and provide shoppers with an El Niño checklist or direct them to already existing how-to guides so they are ready for the rain. They will appreciate that you are looking out for them.

Keep an eye on your popular search terms. The more it rains, the more people are going to realize they need certain things they hadn’t thought of. Make sure you are reviewing your most popular search terms. (If you are an SLI customer, make sure to look at your Poor Results report too.) Keeping in tune with what shoppers want will help you better merchandise the products you have. In addition, user-generated SEO will help your site be found as new, seasonal long-tail search terms gain in popularity.

Stay dry, friends. And for more merchandising tips, check out the SLI Knowledge Base.

How Catalogs Can Succeed in an Omnichannel World

November 12, 2015 - 17:11

Right after Halloween, the catalogs started arriving as usual for the time of year – Frontgate, Lego, Learning Express, Uncommon Goods, Crate & Barrel, Tinyprints and many, many more.

Each holiday shopping season, I find myself initially surprised at why retailers continue to send catalogs when more people are buying online instead. But then, as my kids start to flip through the catalogs to build their wish lists and I find myself earmarking pages over breakfast, I see why catalogs still work: Even though fewer people today will pick up the phone to make a catalog order, these colorful, glossy merchandising tools catch our attention in our homes, when we’re not intentionally thinking about shopping, and they drive us to the online or retail stores where we’ll make a purchase.

In this multi-channel (and increasingly omnichannel) world, there’s no reason for retailers to give up one form of merchandising that works, even if the actual purchase point for the customer changes. There are, however, many reasons to make sure that your different merchandising channels are working well together.

Here are a few tips for making sure that your catalogs are effective in driving shoppers toward a final purchase:

Know what actions you’re driving customers toward. Is your catalog a purchasing vehicle, an advertisement or both? Do you want people to have the option to place a phone order? If so, then the usual catalog best practices apply (a customer code on the back, a toll-free number on each page, clear color choices, item numbers, etc.). Or are you simply using your catalog to drive people to your online or brick-and-mortar store?

Each year I see more “catalogs” that promote products without providing a way to actually shop from the catalog. Learning Express doesn’t list item numbers or a toll-free number because they don’t offer shopping by phone; their catalog is simply a driver to their stores and web site.

Think about what will make shoppers buy from you versus a competitor. Special offers and promotions can make a big difference in whether your catalog encourages shoppers to go to your site or to a competitor’s site to complete a purchase, especially for products that are available through multiple vendors.

I have three learning-toy catalogs in a pile by my computer, each from a different retailer and each containing products that are available in at least one of the other catalogs. When I go to make my online purchases, I’m going to buy from the store that has advertised an offer I can’t refuse. If the offer is not compelling enough, I’ll just skip all three stores that sent me catalogs and buy the item from my favorite local-based online toy retailer.

Make sure shoppers can quickly find catalog items on your site. Once your catalog has done its job of making a shopper want an item that they carry, you’d better make sure that shopper can easily find the item in your online store. Don’t overlook the importance of having top-quality site search: if you don’t show the most relevant items first, whether the customer searches by item number, item name or a descriptive name, you’re not going to make the sale. Features like Rich Auto Complete™, faceted refinements and smart mobile navigation are now expected.

Remember that shoppers often go to their computers or tablets to finalize a purchase because of the speed and convenience of buying the item online rather than making a phone call. Other shoppers will use your catalog or web site to browse before walking into a store to try something on. But all shoppers need to easily find the products they’re looking for on their computers, phones and tablets. If you don’t make your products easy for them to find anytime and anywhere, then you’re not going to succeed in an omnichannel world.

Navigate Mobile Shoppers Toward Sales

November 5, 2015 - 14:00

More than half of all time spent shopping online is done via smartphones and tablets, propelling mobile commerce to grow three times faster than overall e-commerce. In addition to site search, site navigation is one of the most important aspects of the mobile experience.

Here are some tips to help make sure your site navigation is ready for the mobile-and-tablet holiday rush.


Mobile Navigation

The limited space on smartphones and tablets magnifies the importance of intuitive navigation.

To best orient users and guide them through a mobile site (without cluttering the screen), use a simple design. Here are some main best practices:

  • Use drop-down menus with buttons or simple text so you can offer as many drill-down levels as needed while freeing up valuable real estate.
  • Use subpages to expand using familiar icons such as +, – and >. This allows shoppers to easily navigate through categories to exactly the products they are looking for.
  • Give category pages a look and feel similar to search results pages. This gives users a consistent experience across search and navigation.
  • Include a thumbnail image, product title, brief description, price and additional information such as ratings and discounts.

Include Refinements

Just as on your desktop site, refinements make navigation easier for mobile visitors. Since mobile devices have a lot less space for navigation, using a drop-down menu can be a good design choice. Presenting refinements this way saves screen space by hiding them when they are not in use. This helps reduce visual clutter on the mobile site and allows visitors to view more products and content without needing to scroll down.

Offer Infinite Scrolling

You may find that shoppers spend more time on your mobile site if you provide infinite scrolling.

Instead of requiring shoppers to click to the next page, infinite scrolling automatically loads more search results as the user nears the bottom of the page.

Make Links and Buttons Touch-friendly

When designing for touch-enabled devices, keep in mind the size of the human finger and thumb. The touch target for an index finger is 57 pixels and for a thumb it is 72 pixels. Making touch targets smaller than that 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.

Direct Mobile Users to Mobile Pages

If you have a separate mobile site with a different URL, make sure to automatically send your mobile users to the correct site. You also need to direct search engines to this alternate site in order for your mobile pages to rank well in mobile search results. If you’re using responsive design, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Don’t Assume Desktop Features Will Work on Mobile Devices

A 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 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 and may abandon the site in frustration. Instead, optimize your development for the unique features and uses of each device type. Smartphone users and tablet users may use your site differently so consider both types of users.

For more tips on how to improve your site navigation, download our Big Book of Navigation Tips.


Top Costumes for Halloween 2015: Ready to Feel The Force?

October 29, 2015 - 16:32

Don’t be surprised if you have Princess Leia, Darth Vader or Yoda knocking at your door this Saturday, looking for treats. Star Wars mania is in full swing and is dominating the 2015 Halloween costume craze, as Hollywood blockbusters are again leading the costume trend this year.

Data from SLI Systems found Star Wars is an unmatched force with nearly 37% greater interest than Minions – the next closest film. In fact, this Halloween season, consumers conducted twice as many costume searches for Star Wars characters than Frozen characters, which were the most-searched costumes in 2014. Anticipation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is clearly attracting new generations, adding to decades of loyal fan numbers.

The top 5 most-searched movie-themed costumes of 2015 were:

  1. Star Wars (combines searches for Leia, Darth Vader and other characters)
  2. Minions (includes searches for Despicable Me)
  3. Frozen (includes searches for Elsa, Olaf and other characters)
  4. Marvel Universe (includes Hulk, Thor, Ironman, Spiderman and other characters)
  5. Maleficent


As noted in a recent Multichannel Merchant article, SLI studied site search activity across e-commerce costume retailer websites based in the U.S., Canada and Australia, analysing a total of more than 10 million consumer searches taking place between Sept 1 and Oct 20, 2015.

The SLI data team compared the most popular site search terms across costume retailer websites using our Learning Search® service and found interest in current events as well. For instance, searches for ‘Trump’ increased significantly, with 33x more searches than the same timeframe in 2014. The data also revealed, the search term “Trump” was 38% more popular than “Ironman”!

Here are some of the additional findings from SLI’s 2015 Halloween Costume Site Search study:

  • The top three most popular non-movie searches in order were: witch, pirate and zombie
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-related searches remain popular but missed the Top Five movie-themed list, coming in 6thplace
  • Supergirl (and Superwoman) was 3.5x more popular than Trump and nearly 5x more popular than Ironman, the least popular Marvel super hero this season
  • Spiderman was the most popular Marvel super hero
  • Maleficent saw 3x the searches compared with (Princess) Leia

So if you haven’t already bought your Halloween costume for Saturday, there is still time. You can either buck the trend or join the legion of fans who will pay homage to the Star Wars franchise.

May the force be with you!

Aim for Holiday Merchandising Perfection

October 23, 2015 - 15:00

There’s a great deal of science behind online retail, especially this time of year. Holiday shopping projections and results are measured by every retail organization and publication from August through February. Smart retailers analyze these numbers to create merchandising strategies that maximize their conversions.

At SLI Connect last month, Jim Davidson, Head of Research at Bronto Software, shared his latest findings on what retailers believe shoppers want versus what consumers actually expect for the 2015 holiday season. Following are a few interesting points from his presentation, “Creating Holiday Perfection Online,” which he will share in an SLI webinar next week.

Highest Converting Holiday Promotions
Bronto surveyed retailers and shoppers to learn which holiday promotion messages work best for online buyers versus in-store buyers. One of the discoveries was that 38% of shoppers will not buy if free shipping isn’t offered.

Mobile Shoppers: Browsing or Buying?
We know there’s an increasing trend toward using smartphones or tablets to shop online. However, because some retailers are slow to make their sites mobile-friendly, many mobile shoppers still turn to their desktops or go to a store to make the purchase. Bronto found that 22% of shoppers plan to actually make a purchase on their smartphone this holiday.

Even with holiday merchandising in full swing, there are plenty of digital promotions yet to be executed and much fine tuning to be done in the next two months of 2015. Listening to the retail analysts, along with optimizing your site search and mobile search, can help you achieve perfection.

Learn more by registering for the webinar “Creating Holiday Perfection Online” on Tuesday, October 27, at 11:00 a.m. PDT.