The success of digital commerce depends on how easy it is for customers to find the products they need. Business needs to analyze Product discovery functionality from both internal and external perspectives. A business needs to define how to make products discoverable on the web through search engines and how to help customers find rights products when they are already on the site.
Product discovery on the site
When a product catalog contains more than 5-10 products, they need to de organized into categories. With large catalogs, it is common to see a complex hierarchical category tree.
When a customer selects a category, the online shop displays the Category page. It is sometimes also called a Product Listing Page (PLP).
You need to show sufficient product information to allow people to choose between products on the Category page and make sure the price (and any discounts) are clearly indicated. For the fashion category, it is quite common to show available sizes and colors. If your products have only one variant, you can also allow users to Add to Cart from the PLP/Category page.
Keep in mind that in many cases, a product may be assigned to multiple categories. For example, juice can be characterized as a drink and organic. You may also want to add it to the non-alcoholic category if your shop sells beer or wine.
Categorization may be different per country or channel. A site selling clothes may exclude the swimming suites category from the Canadian store during the winter while showing it in Australia, where it is hot and sunny at that time. If your business has a different online shop for kids’ clothes, you may exclude adult categories from that shop. Be ready to prepare and maintain multiple category trees for such scenarios.
You need to give each category a name, description, SEO attributes and assign one or several images. These attributes need to be localized for each of the supported languages. The category also has a visibility flag, which does not affect the products’ visibility.
If your business sells different types of products, templates for product listing and product detail pages can differ from one category to another.
Search is the most used feature in your store, and customers who use it are more likely to buy. Some customers know exactly what they’re looking for and have come to your site to find it, while others have some ideas of what they want to buy and need help to narrow it down.
It is not easy to get Ecommerce Search right. It requires the right tools and expertise.
Here are the biggest shoppers’ frustrations with poor search experience.
The search starts from the Search Box. It would be best to implement Search-as-you-type to begin showing results and suggestions as soon as the customer has typed the first couple of characters.
What should you show as results?
- Use autocomplete to show suggested search queries
- Show categories that contain search terms
- Suggested products
- Product-related content like blog posts.
In this example, as the customer types red, the site shows:
- Suggested search terms like Boston Red Sox
- Categories that contain red products like Cincinnati Reds
- And, of course, products available in red color
E-commerce site search engines must be smart enough to recognize product names, categories, product attributes and do it in multiple languages. They also should know synonyms, ignore case, understand syntax, and more.
In this example, from Zalando.co.uk, a user searches for a dark men jacket warm and finds winter jackets: dark blue, navy, and so on. Even though the keyword dark is not mentioned in the title, the results are relevant.
Semantic search is a data searching technique that goes beyond finding keywords. It aims to determine the intent and contextual meaning of the words a person is using for search. The semantic analysis makes browsing more complete by understanding almost precisely what the user is trying to ask.
In this context, semantic refers to the philosophical study of meaning and is strongly linked to Machine Learning. It uses past data and trial-and-error patterns to enhance your user’s experience.
In this example from Bloomreach, search uses natural language processing, advanced attribute extraction, and past visitor behavior to surface the most relevant products. It can distinguish between product and brand name, ingredients, and measurement units.
With the growing adoption of virtual assistants, voice search is becoming a favored mode of communication since it saves time as users don’t have to type.
Voice search is a technology that allows users to perform a search on their digital devices. Voice search is based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. It is built into virtual assistant software to create a personalized shopping experience. The voice feature is smart enough to capture your shopping behavior and habits. For example, when you buy your grocery online, the voice assistant can remind you about products that have previously been a part of your order or recommend products on sale. Read more about Conversational Commerce in the Channels section.
Have you been in a situation when you have a picture of what you want to buy but not sure how to describe it in a search query? Reverse image search to the rescue. Upload a photo or a screenshot and let the magic happen.
eBay has made an excellent video to illustrate this use case.
Searching for products to buy on mobile is a challenge because consumers are limited by a small screen and keyboard.
Thus, many UX optimization techniques discussed above are even more critical for mobile search and discovery.
A prominent search box with relevant auto-complete makes an incredible difference in the user’s shopping and search experience.
For an eCommerce store with an extensive catalog, a filter is a handy tool to help customers narrow down search results on category pages.
All ecommerce systems support faceted search. According to Wikipedia, the Faceted search is a technique that adds a faceted navigation system, allowing users to narrow down search results by applying multiple filters based on the faceted classification of the items.
The filters are created by using product attributes from a data feed. An example of common facets includes “Price,” “Category”, “Brand”, “Size”, or “Color”. What filters to use depends on the products you sell. It will be a price per night, rating, air-conditioning, or 24 by 7 reception for hotels. While for shoes, it will be size, color, width, and feel. When selling distinct types of products, you will need to design a different set of facets for each category.
Site search is an organic process – users are typing their search queries, basically telling you what they would like to buy. This generates loads of valuable data that you should utilize to learn and find the best algorithms to match those search queries with your products to maximize the conversion rates. You can measure many metrics to be aware of your users’ typing and what they do after receiving results. The two most important ones are low Click-Through Results (CTR) queries and Zero results queries.
One of the low-hanging fruits that you could do quickly is setting synonyms. If, after analyzing your data, you see that some of the underperforming queries are getting many hits, it’s worth doing that. There are many other actions to take, such as setting-up boosts, putting redirects, modifying ranking, etc.
If you’re building your site-search in-house, most probably, you should get the category manager working together with a development team. Just be aware that the more manual adjustments you have, the more maintenance you create.
Each modern ecommerce system has a built-in search engine like ElasticSearch or Solr. To get more powerful and advanced search capabilities, you may opt-in for a specialized search system like FactFinder, Algolia, Bloomreach, Doofinder, or others.
Digital Search in Physical Store
We live in an omnichannel world. In the Channels section, we have discussed that more digital technology is adopted inside retail locations. Let’s talk about how it is used to help customers discover products in a physical environment.
First, retailers need to help customers to find a store. Many companies have implemented a store locator to let customers find stores near them. It is usually done by a ZIP code in the online store or using GPS in a mobile app. Merchants need to go a step further and help customers discover what products are available in their selected retail location and pickup options.
And when you are in the store, the store map on a mobile app offers an easy way to find the items you’re looking for. A map in the Walmart store app allows customers to search for an item and find the correct aisle location. The Home Depot app’s Product Locator is like a GPS for your shopping list. It helps customers quickly navigate through the store to the exact aisle and bay where your item is stocked.
Customers are used to having detailed product information when shopping online, and there is an easy way to make it available in a physical store.
QR Codes are used to link to a website’s landing page when scanned.
When a QR code leads directly to a product page in an online store, the user skips many steps like typing the product code or name into a search box and trying to find which one is this specific product—an actual omnichannel experience.
Helping Customers to Choose the Right Product
With many options available and complex products sold online, customers need help to decide which product is right for them. Consumers want to research and understand their options when buying a new computer or selecting a bank account. Today, whether it’s B2B or B2C, every business needs content marketing to drive conversion.
Ecommerce brands use different content types (blogs, news, user guides, e-books, videos, and manuals) to showcase their products’ benefits and tell brand stories. Content can be a description of product information, a how-to guide, or help customers realize why your products are better than those of your competitors.
For example, BestBuy and Office Depot provide printer buying guides to help customers make an educated decision.
TriggerPoint is a life-enhancing brand focused on empowering people to move and feel better. They sell massage balls, foam rollers, and other muscle relaxation products. TriggerPoint gives us a great example of using content to educate customers.
In addition to newsletters, blogs, and how-to videos, the TriggerPoint has developed an interactive Pain Point guide. A customer selects a point area, and the site shows products and related videos that help heal the chosen part of the body.
User-generated content (UGC) refers to content that’s created by your customers. In a crowded eCommerce market, establishing third-party credibility is key to gaining consumer trust. Brands that utilize user-generated content demonstrate authenticity and typically generate more positive responses from consumers.
Amazon does a fantastic job with user-generated content. Buyers can not only give products star ratings and write reviews, but they can also interact with other buyers through Amazon’s customer Q&As. As a part of the review, customers can upload images and videos.
Such two-way communication helps merchants personally relate to consumers and build trust. If you haven’t added customer reviews to your website yet, I highly encourage you to explore this option.
Many e-commerce sites have implemented a dedicated comparison tool that allows their users to select products they want to compare and then see a detailed side-by-side comparison of each product’s specifications. This is a must-have when you are selling complex products with a long list of parameters. You need to define which attributes to include for each category of products and the number of products that customers can select for the comparison.
Staples gives us an excellent example of product comparison implementation. They allow the selection of products to compare directly from the product listing page and show at the bottom of the screen selected products and how many more you can add. On the Product Compare page, information is presented as a table, and there is an option to only show differences. And, of course, you can add to the cart without leaving the page.
Product Discovery on the web (SEO)
You can find thousands of books and blogs on Ecommerce Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – the practice of increasing the traffic to your website through organic search results. My goal here is to introduce the main SEO concepts and tools that are important to know when implementing digital commerce for your organization.
Most ecommerce sites are quite complex and have many products. Search engine crawlers come to your site and index your pages, but they might not be able to find them all. While most pages are customer-facing, some pages are not accessed by customers but could be essential for SEO.
Google introduced the sitemaps protocol in 2005. It tells the crawler which of your pages are most important and provides other vital details about them. Sitemaps advise search engines on what to crawl and are known as URL inclusion protocol. The XML sitemap lists all URLs from the site, including pages that would not otherwise have been foundable. It gives page crawl priority and also contains two optional tags. The first one, “lastmod’, informs when a page last changed. The second one, “changefreq,” tells how often a page is likely to change.
You should only use a canonical version of the URL in the sitemap. A canonical URL is specified as a snippet of HTML code in the Head section that identifies the main version for duplicate or similar pages. Quite often, ecommerce sites have the same content available under different URLs. Use canonical tags to specify the main page, which should be indexed.
On the other hand, the robots.txt is an exclusion protocol that tells search engines what not to crawl.
Without robot.txt, a search engine robot may crawl your shopping cart links, wishlist links, admin login pages, test links or development site, or some other content that you might not want to expose. Crawls could even find personal information, temporary files, or admin pages.
Be very careful when making changes to robots.txt as it can cause significant parts of your website to be inaccessible to search engines.
To achieve good SEO, you need to specify meta tags for all your products, categories, and landing pages. Meta tag title & descriptions are displayed on the Google search results to encourage users to click on the link.
All Ecommerce systems provide tools to manage SEO either as a standard feature or an add-on.
Every product has a price – a number with a currency sign. There are many different types of pricing you can employ in the business (regular, sale, recurring, volume pricing with multiple tiers, per usage pricing, and other price dimensions)