Everything You Need to Know About Search Bars and Digital Merchandising Right Now
By Kait Spong
Mar 01, 2022
13 min read
Everything You Need to Know About Search Bars and Digital Merchandising Right Now
Table of Contents
Welcome to part one of our “Discovering Bloomreach Discovery” series, where we discuss the ins and outs of Bloomreach Discovery, as well as best practices, insights, and tips on intelligent product search, strategic merchandising, intuitive recommendations, and automated SEO.
Your website should feel like a house party. Before your guests (in this scenario, your site visitors and potential customers) arrive, you’ll want to clean up any clutter and organize your food and drinks (aka your products). As a good host, you should be on hand to direct people to where they need to go. The big question is, of course, how do you get your site in order before visitors knock on the front door of your homepage?
Site search and merchandising are popular strategies among businesses to arrange and optimize their website, especially as brick-and-mortar stores look to digital platforms to increase brand awareness, conversions, and revenue. Even before the pandemic, e-commerce was growing at a rapid rate and is projected to hit 6.4 trillion dollars worldwide by 2024 in the retail sector alone. The stay-at-home necessity of the past two years simply accelerated its adoption.
In order to stay ahead of the curve, it’s important to understand how an investment in site search and merchandising can better your customer acquisition costs (CAC) and bridge the gap between online and offline experiences. Let’s take a closer look at these strategies and what to look for when applying them to your business.
What Is Site Search and Merchandising?
When it comes to in-store merchandising, physical displays of products are strategically arranged to appeal to the customer and achieve sales goals. Think of those lavish, vivid holiday window displays or the hard-to-deny last-minute purchases that stare at you in the checkout lane. Window displays and checkout lanes are prime locations with a lot of visibility inside a brick-and-mortar storefront, making them the perfect spot for “big bet” products.
Because modern consumers want more than a product catalog hastily uploaded onto your website, your intention should be the same online as it is in store: leveraging product placement to maximize conversions. This can be achieved through multiple tactics, whether you’re pinning specific products to the first spot on a results page or ranking certain items higher near a particular holiday. Basically, your site search should be a way to place products in front of the online shopper at the most opportune time.
And, since merchandising and your search bar are two peas in the e-commerce pod, you’ll have to make sure the search bar on your commerce website is up to snuff. Similar to traditional merchandising, the way you display your products is completely up to you and your business goals. To hit the metrics you want, it’s imperative to curate search results that guide and engage your customer, and most importantly, inspire them to take actionable steps in the sales cycle.
Instead of taking the manual route, invest in an intelligent, automated, and personalized solution, which can easily display relevant results and increase brand loyalty. For those looking to invest in a tool centered on product discovery, these are the three essential features to consider before making the big leap.
Intelligent Search Needs Semantic Understanding
Contextual knowledge is extremely valuable when you’re having an in-person conversation with someone. Your tone, delivery, and body language all convey meaning to the person on the other end of the exchange.
On e-commerce sites, search bars often miss out on the nuances of human speech, though. For example, does your site search understand the difference between a “dress shirt” and a “shirt dress?” The words are the same, but the order of them changes the meaning completely. So, the technology used to optimize your online experience needs to be as knowledgeable as your top product professional since site search is known to convert significantly better than the browsing experience.
AI-based search technology can understand your products on a deeper level and present them in ways that make sense to your end user. Smart search bars with extensive dictionaries and multilingual capabilities can identify words and separate product types from attributes — that means, there’ll never be a mix-up between “milk chocolate” and “chocolate milk” ever again. This type of artificial intelligence is referred to as “semantic understanding.”
Your search bar also needs to be smart enough to show related products that resonate with your customer. If someone is searching for a La-Z-Boy office chair in black leather, but you don’t have any in stock, the last thing you want is to display a “no results” page. Instead, your search should surface relevant options in the same color, style, and material. Two types of algorithms will help you do this: recall algorithms and ranking algorithms. A recall algorithm will let businesses return the proper results, while a ranking algorithm will use customer data to arrange products in an order that entices them to act.
Save Time and Headaches With Automation
While semantic understanding plays an important role in site search, businesses often find that they want to make small, manual fixes to the way results are displayed. That’s fine at first, but these patchwork fixes can snowball into major obstacles for your team. They can become time-consuming to maintain, and as your product catalog grows and buyer behaviors change, the rules you’ve created will only overlap and have contradictions.
When investing in your site’s search bar, you shouldn’t have to worry about misspellings or alternative spellings. If someone is throwing a holiday party and looking up decorative items related to “Hanukkah,” your search bar should be perceptive enough to not over-correct the intended search query to off-kilter terms (like “Hannah”) or miss the mark on other spellings of the word (such as “Chanukah”). Synonyms shouldn’t be a roadblock for your customer, either. Disconnects between “sneakers” and “tennis shoes” for footwear merchandisers or “baked goods” and “pastries” for food distributors must be eliminated to avoid more confusion and a higher bounce rate.
That’s where automation comes in. An automated solution will keep your entire commerce team operating at full speed and prevent you from overloading one person or department with too much specialty information. With the right forward-thinking tool, the contextual knowledge applied to your product catalog through semantic understanding can automate tasks and lighten the burden on your team — all while improving user experiences. It’s a win-win.
The level of findability provided by an automated solution will only help your customer along their purchase journey. They will no longer be left to wander the virtual “aisles” of your e-commerce website, trying to find the product they need. Now, optimization can take your digital merchandising strategy and online product placement to a whole new level.
Personalization Is What Will Keep Your Customers Coming Back
Though it’s vital to think about your search bar in your strategy, it’s just as crucial to consider your customer — who they are, where they want to go, and what they are hoping to find. They often don’t have the time or patience to sift through hundreds or thousands of products, so give them a better experience by surfacing the items that personally speak to them within a matter of seconds.
Although many people think of personalization as the domain of marketers, every touchpoint in the brand experience should make the customer feel understood as an individual. By incorporating implicit personalization, or a combination of those very helpful recall and ranking algorithms we discussed earlier, conversions are optimized from the beginning of the journey — at the search query level.
Many times, attempts to capture attention through personalization fail due to a data scalability problem. Not only do you have to consider the product with all of its price listings, inventory data, and item descriptions, but you also must examine the individual consumer with their hundreds of different characteristics before processing it all to present personalized results at scale. A merchandiser, or product manager in the case of B2B, doesn’t have time to manually consider all of these elements.
Since consumers want highly personalized digital experiences that align with their search intent, data platforms need a deep understanding of their customer’s tendencies — and a product’s title, image, and category. You can easily pair a site search and digital merchandising solution with a customer data platform (CDP) with headless technology. Combined, these tools can create custom audience segments and optimize your site based on their specific preferences. Prolific companies, including US bicycle retailer Jenson USA, have already committed to this strategic approach and are profiting with an 8.5% boost in revenue per visitor (RPV).
With consumer demands as they are today, an automated solution with AI capabilities is needed to solve the modern-day challenges of site search and merchandising. Bloomreach Discovery equips you with everything you need to create truly personalized results for your customers, including a self-learning AI-powered search bar, intuitive product recommendations, strategic merchandising capabilities, and automated SEO. More importantly, it’s the only tool of its kind on the market with its distinct focus on commerce data. Interested in learning more? Schedule a demo today.