February 26, 2003, 12:00 AM

Site search continues to be e-retailing’s pain point, survey says

Descriptive phrases returned correct results 89% of the time. But misspelled words and searches for customer service information killed the correct-response rate, says a survey of 91 sites by The E-Tailing Group.

Online retail sales may be booming, as any number of recent surveys report, but e-retailers will continue to leave sales unfulfilled until they fix their site search functionality, says a new survey from Chicago-based consultants The E-Tailing Group.

As long as customers were specific in what they sought and spelled words and names correctly, the site search performed acceptably, says the Mystery Shopping survey from The E-Tailing Group. Descriptive phrase searches returned correct results 89% of the time, with relevant results generally showing up on the first page. The E-Tailing Group gives descriptive phrase search a first page relevancy rating of 4.11 out of 5. But if a customer misspells a word, the rates fall dramatically to 51% and first page relevancy falls to 2.29 out of 5.

Customer service queries fared even worse, with only a 46% correct return rate and a first page relevancy rating of 46%.

“Shoppers demand a search solution that comprehends their questions and delivers intelligent answers using all the available information within an organization,” says Lauren Freedman, president of The E-tailing Group. “When a search solution fails to meet these challenges, merchants face barriers to ROI. If shoppers can’t find product they often abandon a site, seek out its competitors and/or utilize more expensive support channels.”

The company conducted its research across 91 sites in 15 categories. It describes first page relevancy ratings as:
• 5 = Exact match
• 4 = Correct category, correct item within top 2 results
• 3 = Relevant category, correct item not high in results placement
• 2 = Accurate category, correct product buried
• 1 = Wrong item delivered/no results found

“Search is a work in progress,” The E-Taling Group concludes. “A handful of sites have made great strides while many players still have room to grow.”


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