June 29, 2006, 12:00 AM

Effective site search vital to e-retailing success, experts say

Though site search may or may not be the No. 1 priority among the myriad variables of web retailing, its importance cannot be underestimated, according to some industry observers.

When first arriving on the home page of an e-commerce site, approximately 40% of all online shoppers immediately use the site’s search engine; consequently, internal search functionality should be paramount for any Internet retailer that boasts a large assortment of products with numerous characteristics, says Craig Smith, founder and managing director of research firm Trinity Insight LLC.

Such is the status of site search today for e-retailers seeking to boost conversion rates and increase sales, some industry observers say.

Site search is exceptionally important for all e-commerce merchants, says Bill Lennan, vice president and Internet analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc.

“Think of a supermarket where the aisles and layout make no sense whatsoever and it takes hours not minutes to find everything you need. You’d never shop at a store like that,” Lennan says. “Poor site search is the online equivalent of a poorly organized bricks-and-mortar retailer. Sites that have thousands of great SKUs but are not good at sorting through them are cluttered, which likely will lead to frustrated shoppers and abandoned shopping carts.”

Still, while effective site search functionality may be paramount in the minds of some, others say that though crucial it may never be the No. 1 priority for retailers.

“I don’t know if site search will ever be anyone’s top concern in an environment of increasing online advertising costs, interest rates and gas prices,” Lennan contends. “The silver lining of site search problems is that in order to have any you must be having shoppers visiting your site. Ultimately, the No. 1 concern for most retailers always will be how to get people to their web store in the first place.”

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