Site Search is Failing Your Customers

On Tuesday, we hosted a webinar with Forrester’s own Principal Analyst, Brendan Witcher. The webinar, “Site Search is Failing Your Customers,” explored innovations in site search and how retailers can transform and optimize it to engage today’s consumer. We’ll be making the slides and a full recording of the webinar available in the coming week, but given the strong attendance and positive response the webinar topic, we wanted to share the highlights of the discussion.

Empowered Customers Have Given Rise to a New Era
Today’s empowered customers expect consistent, personal, high-value experiences with your brand – regardless of where these interactions occur. Customers want immediate value and will find it somewhere else if you can’t provide it. And their expectations for what constitutes a great customer experience increase with each positive experience they have. Brendan provided some pretty compelling statistics to help illustrate the importance of experience among today’s shoppers:

  • 68% of shoppers won’t return if the brand’s site doesn’t provide a satisfactory experience
  • 73% of consumers felt that valuing a customer’s time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good service

Personalization Remains a Priority but it’s Evolving
Retail and eCommerce brands have recognized their customers rising expectations and have made personalization a top business imperative. According to recent research by the team at Forrester, 89% of eBusiness and channel strategy professionals plan to invest in personalizing the customer experience in 2017, while 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended or paid for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.  However, many are only scratching the surface – relying on rules-based or segmentation models in attempt to make shopping experiences more relevant for broad groups of customers that may appear similar on the surface. Unfortunately, today we have significant gaps in delivering personalized customer experiences. Personalization based on segmentation provides the “wrong” experience for most retail customers – knowing one thing about a customer doesn’t mean you know everything about that customer. To truly personalize the experience you need to speak to your customers at an individual level. This next evolution of personalization will rely more on the pillars of individualization rather than segmentation.

Site Search: The Missed Personalization Opportunity
Retailers and eCommerce teams are prioritizing personalization due to its impact on the customer experience. They are focusing their personalization efforts in a few key areas including website content, alerts and product recommendations. But they are missing a huge opportunity for personalizing each individual’s experience – site search.

According to Witcher, search is inherently a predictive personalization engine, but it isn’t a black box. He advises those retailers building a roadmap for personalized search to consider these 5 best practices:

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance and ROI of search: it’s often your last chance to keep a customer on your site
  2. Align and design site search to support key CX business priorities
  3. Use leading tools that help personalize search, and give customers an easier, more suggestive path to purchase
  4. Think beyond the digital header. Where does search play a role across the enterprise?
  5. Measure your site search results: uplift, conversion, cross-sell/up-sell and engagement.

Voice, Photos and Mobile… Oh My!
Reflektion CMO, Kurt Heinemann echoed this sentiment, noting how site search has largely been overlooked as a customer engagement tool despite its incredibly high intent and conversion rates. Spurred by eCommerce’s increased adoption of artificial intelligence and mobile, site search is moving beyond a simple utility. Today’s digital consumers expect site search to act more like a personal assistant than a dictionary look-up tool. Consumers are demanding more intelligent, personal site search, but they’re not calling it site search.

Site search is being heavily influenced by the increased adoption and integration of virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana. They represent more than an advancement in voice engagement; they represent the future of search. A future where consumers can use any combination of voice, photos and unique queries to naturally engage with a brand.

Brands must be able to individualize search results for each shopper regardless of the number of products or filters involved. However a customer engages with search – text, photos or voice – the results must have individual context and relevance. When shoppers receive results that show a unique understanding of who they are, what they want, and their relationship with a brand, it improves overall search utility, engagement and revenue per search.

Finally, as retailers update their site search functionality to best handle voice searches, it’s easy to forget about photo search. Today’s digital customer has adopted images and photos even more than voice. On the road to more engaging search results brands must also consider adding a photo search option, particularly on mobile. If a customer saw a bag she loved while out with friends and snapped a quick picture, she should be able to quickly attach that photo to a search query and see if a retailer offers anything similar. Trying to describe a picture of a bag via text and scour through results is a time consuming endeavor that no customer wants to deal with.

To ensure you are offering a valuable search experience for your customers, make sure you’ve considered some of these strategies. They’ll enable you to more easily adapt and respond to the changing expectations of today’s digital consumers. Are you ready?

Matt Helmke

Matt is the senior director of communications and content at Reflektion. He’s led global communications, content and brand strategy programs for high-profile, culture-shifting Fortune 500 business divisions, as well as innovative, early-stage startups. The common thread running through his career is a passion for disruptive technologies focused on improving and redefining end-user experiences. Outside of technology, his passions include his family, music, bourbon, craft beers, fishing and swimming… but not all at once.