If I Can't Find It...You Ain't Got It!
Your catalog search feature may be killing you.
"In some retail segments, as much as 22% of shoppers now indicate that they *start* shopping by using a site's search feature. Nearly 40% of shoppers surveyed indicated that if they search and don't find the product they want, they leave the retailer's website without trying to browse for the product!"
Online shoppers expect immediate results. A good portion of your shoppers (especially if you’re using search engines to heavily drive shopper traffic) know exactly what they’re looking for. Many will want to search your site for the specific item they want, rather than having to spend the time browsing down your department structure to find it.
Most small retailer’s catalog search features are highly ineffective and this leads to many lost sales.
If a shopper searches your site and doesn’t find the item they’re looking for, they will assume that you do not carry the item they’re looking for.
It’s actually better to have no search feature at all, than to have a search feature that’s ineffective!
What makes a search feature effective? Ultimately a search feature is effective when it returns the best matches possible from your product selection, a vast majority of the time.
Many small retailers make the mistake of only testing it with search terms that they would use to find particular products, or types of products. It doesn’t really matter how you would search for the product – how do your shoppers search for the product?
Real world example:
A good demonstration of this is an apparel retailer that’s now a client of our company. They had always defined a particular type of shirt as a “golf shirt” – a type of shirt that’s also commonly referred to as a “polo shirt”. In all of their product titles and descriptions for hundreds of this type of shirt, they always referred to it as a “golf shirt”. The problem was that more than half of the shoppers searching for this type of product searched for it as a “polo shirt”. When those shoppers searched the site for a “polo shirt” – they had no matches to their search.
The best way to test your site’s search effectiveness is to record every search attempt to a database, recording the search phrase used and how many results the shopper got.
For any that returned zero matches, but do describe products that you carry – find out why your search feature didn’t match them.
Next, test those search phrases that did get results as well, making sure the results are highly relevant.
Any search phrases that returned more than 10 results should be checked to be sure that the most relevant items to the search phrase are at the top of the results.
I can't record site searches...
If you can’t record search data for some reason, here are some basic steps you can take to test your search feature:
- Make a list of all of the basic product types you carry – such as “golf shirts”, “t-shirts”, “dress shirts”, etc. For each of those product types, define 3-5 other phrases a shopper might commonly use to define the same type of product. Then search your site for each of those similar product descriptions. Any that don’t return appropriate matches are costing you sales.
- Check for common misspellings or misnomers – like “tee shirts”, instead of the correct form “t-shirts”. Shoppers don’t always spell properly, and they don’t always use correct grammar. Your search feature should be able to detect and handle common mistakes.
- Check for plural matching. If I search your site for a product type in it’s plural form, does it return the appropriate matches? This is a common problem. If I search for “t-shirts” (plural), the search feature should be able to match it to products that are t-shirts, but don’t include the plural form in the title or full description.
- Check to be sure multiple word searches aren’t always treated as exact phrase matches. For example, if I search for “t-shirts or golf shirts”, the search feature should be “smart” enough to figure out that I want either of the two, and not return zero matches because there were no products in your catalog defined as “golf shirts or t-shirts”.
- Check to make sure using special characters, like quotation marks doesn’t throw off the search. For example, if I search for “men’s t-shirt” do I get the appropriate matches of men’s t-shirts, or do I get an error…or nothing at all?
- Check to be sure “shopping experience” keywords work. Shopping experience keywords are those that define a specific group of products where if I’m interested in one group, I’m not likely to be interested in other groups. An example of this would be “men’s” vs. “women’s”. If I search for “women’s golf shirts”, I should get relevant products, and only women’s golf shirts.
- Check to be sure brand name searches work. If I search for a particular brand of t-shirt, the search should return relevant results, from that brand. Many times inexpensive shopping cart applications do not match brand names at all, unless the brand name is in the title or full description of the product.
- If you have a large site with hundreds or thousands of products, shoppers will need to be able to refine their search to show only results within a specific department.
- It’s not uncommon for shoppers to use a search term that describes an entire department of products. For example, a shopper might search an apparel site for “shirts” or “socks”. If a shopper does this, how does your search feature handle it? Ideally, your search feature will indicate to the shopper that there is a whole department of this type of product that they can browse.
- Make sure that search phrases that return more than ten results always place the most relevant matches at the top of the search results. The shopper searches specifically so that they do not have to "hunt" for the item that they want. If that item is buried in a page of 40 search results, they’re still left to hunt for it, and thus you have invalidated the entire purpose of searching.
If your search feature isn’t working effectively, it may be time for you to consider a platform that’s better designed – like Suite Spot Commerce.