As the UK's leading retailer of motoring and cycling products, Halfords knows a thing or two about commerce. By applying years of experience in this field, the ambitious company is choosing now to transform into a digitally-led business.
The first area of digital experience that Halfords was most keen to take on was site search. Perhaps often overlooked, compared to flashy design and eye-catching visuals, the humble site search can have a huge, measurable impact on revenue.
But It's Just a Search Bar…?
Site search grabs customers who know what product they want and are looking to buy now - this is a big contrast to customers who are browsing and might buy something in a few weeks.
These potential customers are already far along the buyer's journey, meaning that retailers can increase their likelihood of purchasing massively by simply making those last steps as easy as possible.
The last deciding factors are for the potential buyer to determine whether the product you're offering is the best value for money. These factors can be subjective depending on the customer. However, the retailer has complete control over surfacing the product the potential customer is looking for and eliminating any obstacles that may occur before conversion.
It may seem like I’m exaggerating the importance of site search here, but when the Halfords team dove into their analytics they discovered:
20% of their online sessions included search usage which drove 40% of their online sales.
So How Can You Reap the Site Search Rewards?
The best place to start is by eliminating the problems your customer could face, problems that increase the struggle and time it takes to find what they want. Here are a few examples:
An easy one to point out, but an extremely common problem. Instead of returning "Sorry, no results for X", Halfords’ site search returns relevant results for misspelled terms.
The search implemented on Halfords' site makes sense of search terms that can be written in different way. For instance, the search tool recognizes that "screw driver" can also mean "screwdriver" and returns the relevant products.
There are many different ways of expressing the same idea. A smart site search solves this problem and realizes "bicycle" means the same as "bike".
Now for the Impressive Stuff
The examples above have demonstrated the problems that could occur when a site search thinks more like a database, rather than like the human mind. Now let’s see how Halfords' site search takes it a step further by learning about the specific person navigating their site, and optimizing the search results automatically.
Halfords' site search learns what the visitor is looking for and applies that information to the search results. For example, if you navigate the Halfords website and spend time browsing bikes, the tool will understand that if you type in "tyre" you will be more interested in bike tyres, rather than car tyres.
(Side note, with the synonym understanding mentioned above, the results will also cater to any American visitor looking for “tires”).
Aside from focusing on the specific visitor, the site search collects the data and calculates which search results drive the most conversion across all visitors. It also learns which products are currently trending on the site and highlights them to the customer. In the past, all of these modifications would have had to be done manually through the time consuming task of rule writing. AI-driven search tools mean that converting products are boosted automatically, and no one in your team is lumbered with this tedious task.
Louise Ford, Head of Digital Product & Portfolio, Halfords, says
One of the key differentiators between Bloomreach and others is the AI - the more listening it does over time, the more it improves.
Although it is enormously useful for a site search tool to optimize automatically, there may be instances where you want to push a particular product. For example, if you launch a campaign for a newly released product line, you may want these products to appear higher in the list of search results. Halfords' search has both possibilities and can therefore leverage the advantage of both man and machine.
The search bar may look small, but it has the power to greatly reduce the time spent by visitors finding what they need, which leads to an increase in conversion. With this tool specifically, Halfords increased their revenue per visitor, with a notable uplift on mobile devices. Inspired by this success, Halfords then expanded their Bloomreach toolkit, and saw further impact on their digital experience, with solutions for merchandising and analytics. Check out the full story in the case study linked below.