The tools build on the vast amount of information Google knows about consumers.
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Because customers who use site search drive so much more revenue than those who don't, Bambi Baby says site search is the marketing team's top priority after driving traffic to the site, says Josh Weiss, information technology director at Bambi Baby. The retailer, which has 35 employees, does not disclose its online sales.
One way Bambi Baby increases its profits through site search is by selling top placement in search results for a set period of time to manufacturers and distributors in return for a 3% to 5% discount on that inventory, Ortega says. To customers, the negotiated product placements do not appear any differently than other search results.
Scrubs & Beyond LLC found another way to boost profits by tweaking site search results. The medical scrubs e-retailer sets rules in its site search engine—Hawk Search from e-commerce technology provider Thanx Media Inc.—to highlight new or overstocked products, says web manager Stephanie Harris. Usually, the search engine displays top-selling items first, she says, but she can manually set a particular item to appear first in certain searches. She enters a new rule like this about once a week, most often to advertise just-in products but sometimes to help get rid of excess inventory.
"There's always something fresh, so for repeat shoppers, even if they come a lot, they'll see something new," Harris says.
Scrubs & Beyond also uses Hawk Search to create new category groupings, which it then uses as landing pages for e-mail promotions. For example, during the Fourth of July the retailer might run a campaign around red, white and blue scrubs. While that isn't a category on the site, it can create a link to a search results page for items in just those colors and include it in an e-mail to shoppers, Harris says.
After such a campaign, Harris says sales for featured items typically lift by a few percentage points. "The functionality allows you to have more creative license with your advertising without cluttering your site with additional categories," she says.
Hawk Search starts at around $800 per month and increases based on such factors as the amount of site traffic and content it manages, Thanx Media says.
Wal-Mart's search engine, dubbed Polaris, analyzes in aggregate the shopping behaviors of consumers on Walmart.com, such as incorporating logs of all searches on the site and what customers click on and buy, to match search phrases to products.
That helps raise the visibility of items in its catalog of more than 1 million items—which Walmart.com says will double this year and grow to 10 million or more over the next few years—that may not show up otherwise, Gattani says. For instance, the retailer's previous search engine returned only flat-screen TVs in a search for "flat." However, the most common meaning for that word among Walmart.com shoppers is for the women's shoes known as "flats," he says.
Or, Polaris might learn what a consumer in a particular location intends. For example, U.S. customers typing in "24" typically refer to the TV series of the same name, he says, while in other geographies it might refer to a size or number of items in a pack. Wal-Mart has only deployed Polaris for its U.S. e-commerce site, but will soon begin rolling it out to its international e-commerce sites, including China.
The evidence suggests all kinds of shoppers will buy more frequently if they can quickly find what they want when they search on a retail site.