June 29, 2009, 12:00 AM

Searching for increased sales? Start with site search

Making it easy for shoppers to find the products they want has become a top e-retailer priority.

Any retailer that has been in the e-commerce game for very long knows that getting consumers to a retail site is only half the battle. Getting those consumers to make a purchase is the second half of the challenge.

A key component in closing sales is making sure shoppers can quickly and easily find what they’re looking for. If not, they’ll quickly get frustrated and go elsewhere. That’s why a solid site search program that produces relevant results with just a few clicks has become a top priority for online merchants.

In fact, adding a site search function, or improving an existing system, was second only to more targeted e-mail among initiatives online retailers plan this year to improve web site performance, according to a survey by research and consulting firm the E-tailing Group Inc. It was selected by 69% of retailers responding, up from 65% in last year’s survey.

Seeing success

Among online retailers that have recently upgraded site search is ReadingGlasses.com, which sells designer reading glasses. The retailer has experienced a 20% increase in average order size and a higher conversion rate since upgrading its site search and navigation.

“Our site search looks fantastic. It works. It makes sense. It’s relevant. Most importantly, it’s easy,” says Jason Kyle, e-commerce manager at ReadingGlasses.com.

The system allows customers to find products a number of ways. For instance, when someone starts typing the word bifocals into the search box several potentially relevant terms pop up, and the searcher can choose one of those options. Or she can finish typing in her term and see all the results for that query. The shopper can further sort results by relevance, brand, newest, highest price or lowest price.

Retailers should consider offering consumers many choices on how they want to search, experts say. For example, a shopper at a home furnishing site might start by selecting a category, such as patio furniture and accessories, and from there have the option to drill down by price, color or even more specific attributes such as the material the furniture is made of, for instance, wicker or wood.

Seeking to make its site easier to shop, e-retailer Rocky Mountain Cabin Décor recently re-designed its site, and site search was a key part of the project. Now on the home page, consumers can choose to shop by category (furniture, lighting, bedding, etc.), by room (bedroom, dining room, kitchen, etc.) or by theme (log furniture, Western décor and furnishings, wagon wheel furniture, etc.). Once a category is selected, shoppers then can refine their search through filters, such as brand, material or style.

“Our site’s usability is simpler and far more efficient so that our customers can shop based upon specific products, favorite brands or their lifestyle passions, including outdoors, hunting, fishing or wildlife,” owner Paula Kelly says.

If a site offers content, such as information or news, as well as items for sale, a retailer may want to take that into account when implementing site search. That’s what baking gear, ingredient and recipe site KingArthurFlour.com did, and as a result it increased its conversion rate among consumers who searched the site for products by 10% from March 2008 to March 2009. The new site search functionality also boosted sales revenue per site search query by 17%, the retailer says.

The new system was implemented in three phases on KingAuthurFlour.com: the ability to search recipes, search products and search overall site content. In searching recipes, for example, guided navigation allows visitors to narrow searches according to relevant options, such as preparation time or total time required.

The site search engine also allows King Arthur Flour to present searchers with relevant content from other areas of the site. For example, a search for “sourdough” products not only returns relevant products but also provides links to related recipes and other site content. The improved sales show enhanced site search can be a recipe for success.

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