For any non trivial market place, the problem of helping users find what they want to buy is often a priority.
You will likely find signs on every isle; products will likely be arranged according to some order that will make it easy to "stumble" on what you want to buy. There'll probably also be maps to tell you are relative to other locations.
Visual merchandising techniques usually consider these and more. Many articles talk about visual merchandising and how it's important to sales and customer loyalty. Some industry experts would even say it's the most important aspect of the customer's in-store experience. With that said, even in a store with excellent visual merchandising, there's still often someone (who works at the store) that you can ask for help locating something you're interested in.
You can show them a picture of what you want, you can show them an ad or even put them on the phone with your cousin; and they'd connect you to the product with as little clue as possible.
That's what a good search feature on any e-commerce platform should function like like for the user.
Like a map, it should bring the user to the product they're trying to find with whatever clue they're able to provide. A search query should support input formats that the user has already and should limit the number of additional work the user has to do to reach the product. This means that sites should support more than just text when it comes to search. And when it comes to text, the system should support queries that are more similar to human natural expressions. It is no surprise that this article from Algolia talks about semantic search as "the next big thing in search engine technology".
When is search not relevant?
In a perfect world where information (also product discovery information) is arranged in a way that is obvious to everyone, there'll be no need for search bars at all. Users will just be able to navigate to whatever product they want to buy and add to cart.
Or if you have only two products. Search may not be that relevant for your online store.
Another type of search
When one thinks about search and the internet, one may consider products from Google or Algolia. This is reflective of the current proportion of media formats on the internet. Most of the content on the internet has historically been in text format, so technology has been developed extensively to help us make the most of text, which has been our primary digital format for the longest.
As music became more and more digitised, Shazam became relevant and social media also started to play an important role in music discovery.
More digital formats are now available and widespread. Everyone is now involved with both the the creation and consumption of entertainment and media content. All of this means that people spend more time on the internet and more of their "internet time" on social media sites creating or consuming "already digital" multi-media content.
Other data formats have now reached critical mass on the internet.
There's an estimated 30,000 hours of video uploaded to youtube every hour.
This necessitates the need for other types of search in order to maximise discoverability of both content and product. Alternative searches that are on the rise tend to have something in common: they tend to adapting to the current mode in which users already engage with the internet and their devices.
Conversational search: inspired by instant messaging
Image search: inspired by social media
voice search: inspired by voice messaging.
When considering what it could cost to integrate search into an e-commerce solutions, factors that should be considered include:
- Type of search
- Technical involvement
- Support / maintenance needs
- Ongoing search query costs
- Cost of not having search altogether
In a follow up article we'll explore what it means to plan for growth, and cost that comes with it.