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Harris sees a day when this experience could translate into creating personalized web pages for individual customers and even be used to create loyalty programs. “Customizing the content is a very important part of loyalty,” he says.
Another big change in the site search market has been retailers’ willingness to accept site search on a hosted basis. Only a few years ago, the main route to implementing a site search system was to buy the software and install it on a retailer’s own servers. That has changed. “We’ve seen an increased willingness to look at software as a service, even among the largest retailers,” Ryan says. “That’s the result of stressed IT departments that are struggling to deliver projects on time.”
Site search technology developers are probably smart to keep innovating as the demand for ever better and more sophisticated site search is certain to continue. Vendors base that expectation on the reality of the online retailing market. “The exponential growth in Internet users is flattening out and retailers will have to fight for every set of eyes that comes to their web sites,” Mercado’s Leibow says. “They’re going to have to differentiate themselves from every other retailer and they do that by improving the shopping experience.”
Site search has clearly become one of the key ways to improve the experience.