Many e-commerce packages available today provide some search capability out of the box. These out-of-the-box search utilities typically are good for searching through product names and description. Some even provide advanced capabilities to search other fields or order the data in some unified fashion – like showing you categories of interest, related products, and more.
While these were acceptable solutions 3-4 years ago, nowadays shoppers are a lot more sophisticated about searching for products they want to buy. If they can’t find the product they want quickly and easily, you’re not likely to close that sale, let alone keep that visitor.
Is there a solution?
Thankfully, the answer is yes, there are options to enhance your search capability on your website. As you can expect, there are price points all over the map. When investigating the options available today, a storeowner can quickly become overwhelmed with all the options available. So, the very first and most important task to accomplish is to assess what your shoppers’ search needs are. Doing this before you look at the search solutions will help you quickly narrow your list of potential solutions. If you start looking at products first, you might find yourself becoming a search tool expert and unless that’s part of your business model, it’s probably not the best use of your time as a business owner.
Below we have provided some details about three of the leading industry solutions. There are many other options that may be more pertinent to your business, but we’ve outlined these three because of our direct experience with them (e.g. our confirmation that they actually do what they say they can do) and our own customers feedback about the usefulness of their new search solutions.
SearchSpring (www.searchspring.net) is a relatively new entry to the enhanced search marketplace with solid entry level price points.But that shouldn’t make you think it’s a simple or incomplete offering. SearchSpring provides fast and accurate search results with added capability to boost certain fields or make others more or less fuzzy, such as product name or description. Customers can drill down into search results by selecting from any additional fields (such as price ranges, brands, or features) in a process known as “faceting”. SearchSpring provides synonym-searching, a feature to provide keywords that can map to your products that may not necessarily be part of the product’s description/name itself. SearchSpring also provides a web-based administrative interface for managing your feed data, search facets and overall results of your search service.
While SearchSpring is a relatively new entrant – being released just in 2008 – we have implemented this solution on several stores. The SearchSpring staff has been very helpful and responsive in addressing our needs, as well as taking our suggestions to make the product even more useful.A few of our client sites where you can see SearchSpring in action: CPAPXchange (www.cpapxchange.com) is using the search to enhance their product display results, allow users to better sort the results data and ultimately is interested in driving customers to products without making them have to refine results per se. PennState Industries (www.pennstateind.com) would be on the opposite end of that spectrum. PSI has created a very advanced faceted search that allows shoppers to zero in on the exact product details they are interested in. The value of SearchSpring is in its tightly coupled nature with Miva Merchant and its flexibility in enhancing the displays of results.
The Nextopia product suite provides a plethora of offerings outside the hosted search capability; however, to keep this an apples to apples comparison, we’re only going to focus on the search service.
Nextopia’s offering – eComm|Search – is, like SearchSpring, a faceted-search – they refer to them as refinables instead of facets. (If there’s one constant in the software marketplace, it’s that no two software solution providers will refer to their features in the same manner). Nextopia provides similar breakdowns for sorting products as the SearchSpring solution, including a fuzzy search capability to enhance or widen the search terms, so that if you put in the word “soffa”, you’d still get sofas back. The Nextopia search solution’s base price is $1k/year for listing up to 10,000 SKUs. If you have a higher number of store items, they can provide you with a custom quote.
We have implemented this search solution on a number of sites as well. WonderBrains (www.wonderbrains.com) has seen definitive sales increases as a result of implementing this solution as most of their products used very similar feature sets – such as grouping products by activity, or age of a child. On Katom’s (www.katom.com) site, the refineables are making all the difference in the right products getting to the top of the search results page. Both clients are very happy with their implementations, especially the conversions rate increase for customers using the search tool.
If there’s a purported Cadillac in this group, it would have to be the SLI Systems solution – Site Search. Site Search provides the faceted search features we have described above, but adds a new wrinkle – Learning Navigation. A site search that learns (yes, it sounds very HAL9000 to me as well, or maybe WOPR in War Games, but I digress) the Learning Navigation feature “learns” from previous site visitors’ search activity. It will track search queries and click-throughs and uses those results to deliver better search results based on popularity. In other words, it creates an affinity between the search term, “sofa” and the sofa products that were clicked, so the next user to enter sofa is going to see those same results. SLI says, “Learning Search delivers the results people are looking for on the first page 95% of the time, which means more satisfied, and potentially more loyal customers”. You’re going to have to be the judge of course if this is true or not, but conceptually it’s a nice feature.
SLI Systems provides an ecommerce merchandising offering that includes a “related search” feature, targeted promotional banners, custom landing pages and an up/cross-sell capability to push your customers through the buying process. Some or all of these features may be of interest to you, but again unless you’re REALLY looking for a Cadillac, either of the other offerings is probably sufficient for most e-commerce sites.
We are currently implementing our first SLI solution at time of this writing and so far, it’s going well. Once we’re finished, I’ll add a comment to this entry in order to complete our assessment of all three solutions.
Keep in mind, I’ve discussed three solutions in this space to present a range of currently-offered tools. If I were trying to do an exhaustive article on this topic, it would be a book and by the time I was done, most of the players would likely have changed by then, so take it for what it’s worth – a snapshot of an upcoming software market where we’re sure to see many more challengers before we settle into a true landscape of solution providers. Keep that in mind, when deciding on a solution.
So, where do I go from here?
Ultimately, as a store owner, you will need to assess the cost/benefit of implementing an enhanced site search tool. We have found that the enhanced search tool capability brings shoppers to products that interest them much faster than casual clicking can, and if you have shoppers that don’t like to “browse” online, then the fewer clicks you give them, the more likely you’ll close a sale and see your conversion rates improve.