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Redesign site search to boost findability and sales

Shoppers with intent to buy only find what they are looking for half the time. That’s not good enough.

Amazon has one. So does Saks and Michael Kors. The search box—nestled at the top of the home page or hidden in the upper right corner—is an essential feature of retailers across the Internet Retailer 100, 500 and 1000.

Spend a little time with on-site search on a retail site, and you’ll quickly realize that it hasn’t evolved much since Endeca hit the scene in 1999.  Seventeen years of search technology and e-commerce advances have not led to meaningful innovation.  Instead, shoppers attuned to Pinterest and Pokemon Go are stuck in a digital time warp of unfriendly text boxes and unhelpful results.

Site search is broken, and for retailers, the consequences are worse than you may realize.

The outward problem is what Brigham Young University professor Michael Hendron calls “findability.” Drawing from multiple sources, Hendron notes that 30% of e-commerce visitors use site search, and highly coveted buyers are 90% more likely to use site search. However, buyers only find what they’re looking for in 50% of all site searches.

When did we, as an industry, deem a 50% failure rate acceptable?

Until recently, selling something online was a challenge unto itself. Engineers designed user experiences around technical requirements, not the emotional needs of human beings. “Does this work?” was their driving question. In design, means took a backseat to ends. In the process, the most important questions took a backseat too. How do I feel when I visit this site? What is it like to shop here? How easy is it to find and buy things I want?

Failed design is certainly not unique to search. In Seth Godin’s famous TED Talk, “This is broken,” the marketing guru examines comically poor design and ponders why it happens. His seven reasons have a common denominator: a lack of empathy.

Empathy, by definition, requires understanding. But an overwhelming majority of search boxes don’t understand what people want, as a 2014 study by the Baymard Institute illustrates. Of the 50 top-grossing U.S. e-commerce websites, 70% required you to search in the website’s jargon (“blow dryer” can’t replace “hair dryer”), more than half couldn’t support thematic searches (“beach” or “cold weather”), and although 82% offered auto-suggestions, 36% of the implementations did “more harm than good.”

If you told a retail associate, “Hi, I need a hoodie for cold weather sports,” she wouldn’t say, “Sports? Never heard of them.” Likewise, the associate wouldn’t say, “Well, we only sell ‘hooded sweatshirts.’ Bye.” These situations happen on web and mobile—and nowhere else.

Shoppers today can purchase almost anything online; credit cards and free shipping and returns have removed the magic from online shopping. Therefore, the ease, simplicity, and quality of the process matter more than ever to attract, win and retain customers. The customer experience is the biggest differentiation.

To become unbroken, site search has to strike a balance between technical requirements and empathy. Three principles can help it get there:

1. Prioritize Findability. Many e-commerce sites look at shopper conversion rates without examining the effort it took to make that purchase. Running 32 searches to buy one pair of jeans does not qualify as easy or effective for anyone but the most devoted shopper.

Examine what does and does not happen on your website. Did the buyer search “shoes” and stay on the results page? Did she scroll, browse, or search by category? How many queries did she run? Using what words? What abbreviations, synonyms, and themes lead to dead ends on your website? Identify where findability falls apart and use these insights to better serve your customers.

2. Entice. Make it easy to find goods, but do not rush shoppers to the finale. Inside the actual search results, give people the freedom to explore, play, and learn before they commit to a purchase.  The best way to do this:  Replace static lists and grids with gorgeous visuals, dynamic movement, and interactivity.

For example, why not let shoppers digitally mix and match bikini tops and bottoms? Why not rearrange images as the search term takes shape to create a dynamic experience that improves on Pinterest and Instagram? Just like in-store visitors, online shoppers need the inspiration, space and guidance to validate their decision. Search can create or kill that space.

3. Personalize. Just as the best associate knows the style of her regular customers, the search bar should know a shopper’s demonstrated preferences. It should be able to suggest search results based on past purchases, searches, browsing patterns, social media activity, and other unique criteria.

To be clear, personalization is different from bare-bones autocomplete or autosuggest, which offer results based on generic parameters. With personalization in play, no two shoppers have an identical search experience.

Site search is fixable and ripe for disruption. Now that engineers have the leeway to think logically and psychologically, e-commerce will find a balance between function and findability. Site search is broken, but not for long.

It's An Omnichannel World

Last week over 300 in-store innovators from over 150 retailers gathered in Seattle for the 2016 Future Stores Conference. Future Stores brings together retail operations, omnichannel, customer experience and IT executives to focus on in-store innovation and how to bridge the digital and physical retail environments. As part of this we learned that there’s a fine line between creepy and cool, especially when it comes to digital technologies in-store.

If you can recall a time pre-Facebook Newsfeed, or dare I say Facebook in general, then you know how easily perceptions of personal privacy invasion can be shifted. 15 years ago virtually everything about the Internet would have been perceived as outrageously invasive and today we welcome and seek out attention from strangers via likes on social channels. So in interest of keeping a real-time pulse on what customers think is actually cool today vs. what’s really just creepy, we’ve conducted our ‘Creepy or Cool’ Survey for the second year running.

So here’s what’s up:

This is what’s really totally cool (dare we say awesome):

You can scan a product on your mobile device to see product reviews and recommendations for other items you might like.
Overall: 79% cool; Millennials: 84% cool

Soon after you leave the store, you receive a digital coupon for a product you looked at but didn’t purchase.
Overall: 52% cool; Millennials: 60% cool

When you check out, your print or email receipt includes product recommendations selected just for you.
Overall: 50% cool; Millennials: 59% cool

This stuff is ‘Cool’:

Your location in the store triggers personalized product information, relevant content, recommendations and discounts to pop up on your mobile device as you walk the aisles.
Overall: 40% cool; Millennials: 49% cool

Digital screens in each dressing room show products that complement the item that you are trying on.
Overall: 41% cool; Millennials: 49% cool

A salesperson makes more helpful suggestions because they can see what you’ve previously browsed and bought on their site and in the store.
Overall: 32% cool; Millennials: 45% cool


This stuff is totally creepy (aka give it 6 months):

Facial recognition technology identifies you as a high value shopper and relays this information to a salesperson.
Overall: 67% creepy; Millennials: 71% creepy

A salesperson greets you by name on the store floor because your mobile phone or app signals your presence:
Overall: 64% creepy; Millennials: 64% creepy

Want to read more? Keep reading here.

The survey of 1,018 US consumers was conducted by RichRelevance in May 2016.

How Smart Is Your Cart?

You spend a lot of time optimizing your website to streamline the shopper’s path through the retail funnel—making sure they see value at each point along the way. Once you navigate the shopper to the right product, it’s important that you take the necessary steps to seal the deal, and get the shopper across the finish line.

The cart page is a pivotal area for securing that conversion. When done well, you’ll get the sale, and then potentially entice the shopper to buy more items. When done poorly, you’ll disrupt conversion by distracting the shopper from the transaction you’ve fought so hard to get.

And so we ask: How smart is your cart?

At RichRelevance, we’re sensitive to the cart page experience, and work closely with our retail partners to implement solutions deep in the funnel that will grow cart values without compromising conversion. Here are three things you can do with product recommendations to substantially enhance your cart page experience:

1. Get out of the way

Securing conversion is our primary objective on the cart page. If we can get the shopper to buy more stuff and grow the order value, that’s phenomenal! But, it shouldn’t compromise completing the sale. The location of recommendations must reflect this prioritization and not interfere with the shopper consuming information critical to the buying decision.

As such, recommendations must be on the periphery of core content such as the cart summary, checkout call-to-action, promotional code inputs, and other key messaging and functionality. This usually means slotting a vertical placement in the right margin or a horizontal placement underneath the main content area. Otherwise, if more prominently placed, you’re baiting customers to continue shopping, which can be extremely disruptive to conversion.

2. Recommend complementary, non-competitive products

When you finally get the shopper to the cart page, it’s critical not to challenge their decision to buy. If they add a TV to their shopping bag, they’ve demonstrated a degree of commitment that we shouldn’t impede by recommending another TV upon landing on the cart page. Instead of being helpful, that would be frustrating to the shopper, and elicitreconsideration at a point when a shopper should be firm about their core purchase

On the cart page, it’s imperative to use cross-sell recommendations that display products most often purchased with the seed item. However, since these kinds of recommendations rely on purchase behavior at the individual product level, something that happens much less frequently than browse activity, , it can be challenging for behavioral recommendations systems to always deliver intuitive cross-sell recommendations across a retailer’s entire catalog.

As an example, if a specific TV model has only been purchased 50 times in recent history, that’s probably not enough transactions to reliably identify four or five logical products that are commonly purchased with it. You can overcome this dilemma, in 2 ways:

I. Incorporate point-of-sale (POS) data in recommendations. If you have a brick-and-mortar presence, you probably have more offline POS transactions than online sales. Incorporating those in your online recommendations will provide a wealth of data from which to identify logical product associations.

II. Employ rule-based recommendations. Create a set of advanced merchandising rules that governs what is recommended in cross-sell situations. For each category of products, define what categories you want represented in each recommendation slot—and then let the engine source products based on whatever brand, attribute or compatibility-matching requirements you might have configured.

Ok, so now you have well-placement recommendations and you’ve optimized your cross-sell assortment across your entire catalog. What’s left?

3. Optimize your recommendations layout

Once you’ve gotten the shopper to the cart page, create inertia that pushes them through the checkout process rather than casting them out to higher parts of the funnel. You can do this by presenting a recommendation layout that facilitates exploring a product and adding it to cart without leaving the current page. Implement ‘quick view’ functionality on recommendations that allows a shopper to access product information, configuration options (e.g., size/color), and add-to-cart capabilities with a single click. Without this functionality, you’re forcing shoppers to leave the cart page to explore recommended products, and they may never come back.

Your cart page is sacred as it’s the gateway to more cash in your coffers. It’s imperative that the page experience drive shoppers to transact rather than pull them into a dangerous loop of product reconsideration. These are merely a small sample of tactics RichRelevance has deployed and validated using rigorous A/B and multivariate testing. We strongly encourage you to consider these optimizations for your retail site. They’ll make your cart smarter, protect your conversions, and grow your order values.

The Debate Continues: To Introduce or Not to Introduce In-Store Technologies?

Last week over 200 in-store innovators from 120 enterprise retailers, gathered at Future Stores in the Victoria Park Plaza in London. The event is a ‘one-stop-shop’ for retailers seeking practical solutions to accelerate their in-store transformation projects from concept to reality.

There were many interesting topics covered from in-store design to leveraging data from digital channels to adapt in-store experiences. The common thread throughout all the conversations, presentations and debate – was putting the customer at the heart of all strategies and initiatives; from driving customer engagement to improving their experience and making their shopping journey as easy as possible.

One of the most interesting debates was about the use of technology in-store. It was abundantly clear retailers are either embracing it or running in the opposite direction. There are perfectly legitimate reasons as to why a retailer is on one side of the fence or the other.

Where a retailer has a high turnover of sales staff with busy stores and peaks at checkout tills, utilizing technology on the shop floor can certainly enhance the customer’s experience. In this scenario, arming sales assistants with access to stock levels, personalized recommendations and complementary products plus the ability to take payments on the shop floor, improves the experience for customers, saving them time and results in more sales and less returns.

However, if a retailer has highly trained, loyal sales assistants who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic product advocates, who act as personal advisors to their shoppers, supporting technology to help the sales process is arguably reduced.

Regardless of the environment or scenario, it’s agreed that technologies introduced to the in-store experience should be complementary to the shopping journey – not a distraction for associates and shoppers alike.

Ultimately, it will be the customer who decides. As our ‘Creepy/Cool’ survey from 2015 revealed, shoppers also have different attitudes towards technology in-store. Where some shoppers embrace features such as facial recognition and interactive mirrors making product suggestions in changing rooms as cool, others are turned off at the mere thought. Therefore, the type of customer a retailer has will influence their use of technology in-store. That said, attitudes can and often do change over time, and I’m certainly looking forward to the latest ‘Creepy/Cool’ survey results, which are out in the next few weeks.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the debate at Future Stores, and we’re looking forward to their next event in Seattle in just a few weeks time.

Omnichannel Personalization Means Mobile First, and This Time We Mean It!

Can a better user experience disrupt an industry? I don’t mean digital-only experiences like Angry Birds or FarmVille, but industries with physical assets and high marginal costs like taxis and 200,000 square foot stores. Uber and Amazon are proving that user experience disrupts. Amazon accounted for 24% of all U.S. retail growth last year and taxi license values have dropped 28% since Uber launched. Increasingly, our clients are telling us that their customers compare their user experience’s to that of Uber and Amazon — not Kohl’s to Target, Nordstrom to Saks, Williams Sonoma to Crate & Barrel, or Sam’s Club to Costco. Today, your competition, especially in user experience, has no bounds. Vertical silos no longer apply, you’re competing against whomever has created the most innovative and user-centric experience.

Google predicted this six years ago and has consistently repeated the warning ever since, however, few retailers responded. It’s difficult to head this kind of warning when ecommerce is growing at 30% year-over-year and there’s no pain in sight, but this year the pain arrived. So what can retailers do?

One of our luxe department store clients conducted a study a year ago to determine what their clients wanted in their user experience. They were considering everything from pop-up stores, in-home trunk shows to tablet apps. The response was oddly simple and overwhelmingly clear: whatever you do make sure it works on the shopper’s 5 inch smartphone screen and equip in-store sales associate’s with tablets rich with useful information. They were a bit surprised. Women standing in a gorgeous multi-story luxury department store would want rich, personalized information on their 5” screen? Overwhelmingly, yes. And when she was talking face-to-face with a high-paid, well-trained sales associate she wanted the associate to have the same personalized information so they could share it on an 8” screen? Yes again!

Like most mega-trends, it’s not surprising in retrospect. After all this is the generation that publishes their lives across social media, invented the selfie, and stares at their beloved 5” screen every chance they get. Although we’ve heard it time and time again, we’ve now been told that mobile dominates, plain and simple.

So with mobile applications in mind, here are the low-hanging fruit we’re seeing our retail clients go after:

Offline sales: Add store and contact center sales transactions to your web and mobile app customer profiles. Transactional data is relatively small. It only takes four minutes to upload Cyber Monday sales for a huge retailer such as Macy’s.

In-store mode for customers’ mobile app: Stores are information rich environments, but so are smartphone apps, so get them working together. JCPenney, L.L.Bean, Patagonia and many others are doing just this. Start with something as simple as letting customers scan an item’s barcode and retrieve real time prices, inventory, accessory recommendations, other product recommendations and even editorial content. Standing in front of a 4 foot hunk of plastic is useful, but so is watching an awesome video on how to use it; feeling the fabric of a dress is experiential, but so is seeing how it was fitted and flowed on the runway. If your customers like scanning items then add more proactive service features such as passively detecting location with beacons and then streaming personalized recommendations and content as they move about the store.

Sales associate app: Monsoon was our first client to add personalization to sales associate tablets. After extensive testing, they rolled it out to 325 stores, saw a 130% increase in average order value for customers served with the app compared to customers who were not. Customers loved the app, 84% of customers gave it an excellent rating and they purchased 1.3x more merchandise. Since then Barneys New York, Ann Taylor and others have rolled out similar sales associate apps.

In-store browse abandonment emails: If 80% of a retailer’s sales are in-store and only 25% of store customers use the apps described above, then that will generate as much customer-level data as their website, doubling the behavioral info available for driving personalization. One obvious and high ROI use case is browse abandonment (retargeting) emails following store visits that did not result in a sale.

There are a myriad of ways to create impactful customer experiences across channels, and if it hasn’t become evident, now is the time. There is no one size fits all for omnichannel personalization, after all that would be counter intuitive. If you’re interested in learning more watch my webinar on How to Utilize Your Customer Experience to Disrupt your Market or feel free to reach out to me at DBryan at RichRelevance.com to start sketching a personalization roadmap that best represents your brand, channels, tech stack, budget, and ROI goals.

Leading Marketplace gives RichRelevance Top Review

I wanted to highlight a particularly interesting case study of RichRelevance customer, PriceMinster. The second most visited ecommerce site and leading marketplace in France, PriceMinister, part of the Rakuten Group, was looking for a personalisation platform to help improve their commercial performance and give them a competitive edge.

PriceMinister turned to RichRelevance in 2012 because they needed a scalable and robust personalisation engine to cope with one of the broadest product catalogues (up to 200 million products) and 15 million visitors per month to their website.

After A/B tests showed a much greater engagement of visitors with the RichRelevance personalised recommendations verses their incumbent provider, plus a 1.5% revenue lift, PriceMinister implemented the RichRelevance Recommend™ solution.

Wanting to ensure they were practicing as much personalisation as possible, PriceMinister went on to utilise the help of one of the RichRelevance personalisation consultants to run optimisation tests in order to further improve performance. As a result they’ve maximised the amount of personalisation opportunities that can occur across their various customer touchpoints (web, email, mobile, etc.).

To find out how PriceMinister got on with their optimisation project and for more results, download the full case study.

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