August 19, 2010, 2:02 PM

A fashion e-retailer refines its search results based on customer behavior

KarenMillen.com drives additional sales by elevating results that shoppers click on frequently.

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KarenMillen.com, the e-commerce arm of the U.K.-based upscale clothing retailer, in May implemented a search system across its web properties that improves search results by elevating the links that shoppers click on most often.

The Learning Search service from SLI Systems tracks shopper search behavior in aggregate so that future searches deliver the most relevant and popular items, says Shaun Ryan, CEO of SLI Systems. “We watch what people search for and click on the most and adapt to preferences,” he says.

The Learning Search system used by Karen Millen adjusts search results on a daily basis, based on the previous day’s shopper behavior trends, Ryan says. The search function also automatically suggests popular search terms as the shopper types in a keyword. For example, if a shopper types in the word “blue,” the auto-complete feature will suggest the term “blue dress” or “blue shoes” depending on which is currently the more popular search phrase. If the shopper accepts “blue dress,” the first search result presented is the site’s most-viewed blue dress.   

Karen Millen also uses popular search terms to help with paid search investments and merchandising. “If customers are searching a lot for blue dresses the system will prompt them to add that term to Google AdWords,” says Ryan. “Or if customers are looking for something they don’t carry, this gives them information on what they should start stocking.”

The e-retailer also uses the keyword knowledge to influence what topics are explored on its blog and on its Facebook page.

Karen Millen says it expects to see a 50% increase in web sales this year as a result of the changes, based on improved conversion rates it experienced during a test of the system on the company’s U.S. web site.  

Karen Millen is not alone in its desire to refine search results. A recent survey of U.K.-based retailers found that 57% of respondents planned to increase spending on site search this year. Almost two-thirds, 64%, felt that effective site search increases sales. Consulting firm Econsultancy and Funnelback, a search engine services firm, conducted the survey.

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