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Retailers Invest in Search Tech

In growing numbers, retailers are upgrading their website's search functionality to make it easier for customers to find specific products or sizes. The enhancements are long in coming for the retail industry, which has treated search as a second tier function, providing only rudimentary functionality - a fact that Google highlighted when it rolled out Google Commerce Search, a $50,000 search engine for retailers, last month.

It is rare, for example, for a retail site to have advanced filters or any other means of executing a search that goes beyond a single word product name. In other words if you are looking for a digital camera case on a particular site, oftentimes you have to start with "camera" and click your way through all the camera and camera-related products before you get to what you want. Retailers, grasping this frustration and perhaps spurred on by Google's entrance into the space, are renewing their efforts to improve search for their customers.

In Search Of

One example is JoS. A. Bank, which recently redesigned its website to include advanced product search functionality. Users can search for, say, blue striped ties, or white t-shirts and pull up exactly those products. The site also allows users to search for men's suits by size.

Mighty Leaf Tea also redesigned its site so visitors can search based on any number of criteria - by price, world region, tea ingredients, and even moods such as "formal" or "relaxing." The site used Learning Search from SLI Systems in its redesign. Before that, search was packaged with its e-commerce storefront, according to Bliss Dake, vice president, e-commerce and operations.

"The search function was extremely limited - if a customer misspelled the name of a product, or searched for something that we don't carry, they would simply receive an empty search result. There was no way to offer suggestions for similar products, or to allow customers to search according to different parameters."

Since the redesign, the site receives an average 79.8% click-through rate on its top 5 search results.

For its part Wilton, a cake decorator and bakeware company, reports a 50% increase in repeat online visitors and a 35% reduction in abandonment of its search results page after it rehabbed its home-grown search functionality. Though Wilton sells bakeware and cake decorating products on its website, it had thousands of pages of baking and decorating-related content. The search results page abandonment rate on the old site hovered at a high 20% before it implemented Omniture SiteSearch.

The site now groups typically-searched events, such as "graduation," into such categories as Products, Ideas, 'How To' articles, Recipes, Techniques and Forum postings.

Investing in Search

Such success stories are expected to grow, as more retailers invest in search. According to Shop.org's "The State Of Retailing Online 2009: Merchandising Report," the vast majority of retailers polled say they plan to enhance search in some manner.

Nearly three-quarters of retailers (73%) expect to add different skins or filters to their search functions, which would enable shoppers to choose multiple attributes like brand, color, price and size to their site search. In addition, 41% of retailers surveyed said they are evaluating introducing an entirely new search engine to their websites.

In another survey, the November 2009 E-Commerce Customer Experience Survey by SLI Systems respondents cited site search, analytics and email marketing as providing the greatest return on investment (ROI).

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