Making The Smarter Search Bar

Suffice to say, the Internet is a big place that’s getting bigger every day. With more places for consumers to research and shop than ever before, eCommerce retailers have suddenly had to grapple with not only breaking through the white noise from competitors, but also helping shoppers find the exact products they’re looking for in an endless sea of information.

According to Swiftype and CEO Matt Riley, retailers’ search bars aren’t giving consumers what they’re looking for, but with some clever under-the-hood data enhancements, search can be as smart as consumers expect it to be.

“Until recently, most retailers relied on ‘out-of-the-box’ search experiences that were provided by their eCommerce platform provider,” Riley explained in an interview with MPD CEO Karen Webster. “They assumed that the basic functionality that these companies provided was adequate, but at the end of the day, it didn’t satisfy the needs of their customers or their internal needs for visibility, analytics and fine-grained control.”

Instead of one-size-fits-all functionality, Riley explained that Swiftype offers retailers the ability to customize not only the experience of hunting for products or information, but also the nature of results that searches return. Merchants can weight certain items to appear higher among results, link commonly searched synonyms together for more consistent search experiences and even automatically suggest terms when customers misspell queries.

But should retailers really be chasing enhanced search experiences when so many consumers start their product research on catch-all search engines? A study from BloomReach found that 44 percent of all consumers start their product searches on Amazon and 34 percent begin at a non-retail search engine. However, Riley emphasized that there are plenty of consumers who already know what they want, and if merchants can’t help them navigate to those products within their own sites, they’re essentially torpedoing their own consumer experiences.

“Consumers who want to buy something from J.Crew don’t end up on those products by searching Google for shirts and randomly deciding on the J.Crew brand — they go to J.Crew first and then search within a product catalogue they already trust,” Riley said. “In these cases, it’s in J.Crew’s best interest to make sure those consumers have an excellent on-site experience, and search is obviously a huge component of that satisfaction because it is the most direct path the user can take to the product they ultimately want to purchase.”

The need for retailers to provide an intuitive and seamless search experience is even more important on mobile and native apps, Riley noted. When customers skip the search engine to research within a merchant’s branded app, the only tools they have are the ones they’re provided with, and brands that fail to guide shoppers to their destinations are missing out on key opportunities in the path to purchase.

While poor search functionality introduces a problematic degree of consumer-facing friction, a bare-bones search bar also provides retailers with little – if any – data on how and what consumers are searching for. Riley explained that Swiftype’s approach to search helps even the least tech-savvy merchants collect information on which items shoppers are searching for, looking at and – ultimately – purchasing.

“From the retailer’s perspective, most platforms don’t provide insight into what the most popular searches are, what searches are most commonly returning zero results, and a plethora of other analytics that indicate how users behave after interacting with the search bar,” Riley noted. “With Swiftype, retailers can provide all of these things and quickly can turn a poor customer experience into a good one, while also being an excellent source of additional insight for the retailer themselves. This leads to more satisfied customers and ultimately more revenue for the business.”

As Swiftype looks to the future, Riley explained that the company is currently investigating customizing search products based on customer segments for an even more personalized approach to the consumer experience. It just might take such a granular approach to product searches to keep customers focused on what they want in an increasingly unwieldy eCommerce space.