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As a representative of a generation that grew up on Google, it is obvious to see that the basis of what we as consumers know as internet today is ‘search’. The search engine has become ubiquitous in our lives not only in the ways in which we interact with the internet, but also as how the internet itself as a commodity is structured. An interesting example of this is the rise of a category of apps whose only job is to look through vast amounts of data and to provide you a set of results that most accurately match your queries – looking for a shack in North Goa which serves Italian food? Or a house to rent in Saket, Delhi with a pet friendly owner? An industry survives on only trying to answer simple search queries like these.

It is easy to then connect the importance of the search query in online retail. A significant feature of most major online retail platforms is the advanced search features that they carry. Not only can you tweak your query according to filters like price, rating and popularity, the search engine also provides suggestions to you based on the keywords you feed and your previous interactions with the website. An online retail website, or for that matter the internet, is a collection of data stored in physical servers situated across the globe. The only way that the customer can then access individual products is by sorting through each till they find what they look for. Amazon has over 22 million products listed on its website. Imagine having to go through each to find the shoes you wanted to buy!

It is thus important to understand that way your data is structured on your website and the means that you provide the user to navigate through it can literally make or break your online store. The search option of your website is potentially going to be the feature that will witness the most interaction, and therefore it is imperative that some thought be given to it. Let us look at a few ways of refining the search bar of your website and how it can immensely help drive sales.

Improving Site Search for Online Retail Stores

1. Make the Search Bar Prominent

And before that, get yourself a search bar. A rookie mistake when it comes to designing a catalogue based website is not including the search bar. And if it is there, make sure that the user can see it. One can think of the search bar as a sort of omnipresent part of your website. In websites with a lot of interconnected webpages, it is usually advisable to give the user two buttons at hand – home and search. It can be very annoying if one has to always go back to the homepage if they want to search for a new product. A simple example of this is how most big online retail channels display search on their websites and apps. The search option is generally a permanent part of the header of all the webpages in most of these websites. It also occupies a relatively larger width, as compared to most traditional search bars. It gives the user a breathing room to frame the keyword without the pressure of having to fit it in a box. A simple example of this is Wikipedia.

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This is a Wikipedia header, with the search bar marked in red. As opposed to which –

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The difference is quite easy to see. Wikipedia relies on hyperlinks – interconnections between its individual webpages to navigate as compared to the search bar. This is completely correct for Wikipedia – a typical user would land up on a wikipage through a search query and then look around in that subject using the insane amount of hyperlinks that are provided. Facebook on the other hand, relies much more on the search bar, because it wants its users to search for people and interact with them. Therefore, the search bar is a permanent and significant feature of the Facebook webpage.

2. Understand Keywords

The search engine is an interactive interface between the customer and the store. And while the catalogue is pretty much in the seller’s hands, the fact remains that different people have different ways to access content in a website. In a search engine, the problem is generally of translation. If a customer puts in a query ‘boots’, what result do they generally expect? They may just be browsing for boots or they may have a particular brand or product in mind. They may even have an image in mind (which is commonly the case), and would be substituting the image with a word they feel is most appropriate. As in, they might get what they want if they look for shoes, rather than boots. So how does this scenario play out for the online retail giants?

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With Amazon, we see an example of autosuggestions. The search engine uses subtle ways to gather more information about the user by suggesting a few options, rather than directly displaying a set of results, as is traditionally the case. It therefore gives you a suggestion – ‘boots for men high ankle’ or ‘boots for girls’ for you to narrow down your choices and filter out results.

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There are a few things one can glean from the Snapdeal search engine too. Firstly, there is the ‘Books Science Books’ suggestion. This is interesting because the autosuggest assumes that you have misspelled a word, and suggests a more appropriate one. The other point to note is that it also suggests brands that are generally associated with the search query – in this case, Woodland and Lee Cooper, both of whom are popular boot manufacturers. Thirdly it also suggests a color – presumably one that is generally associated with the search query, to help you transfer the mental image into the engine.

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Finally, one can have some good things and some bad ones in the Flipkart search engine. It is difficult to deduce how the word ‘batman’ came into the picture, for example. The first autosuggestion – ‘football shoes’, does not have the keyword in it.  Also, don’t think we didn’t notice the typo in ‘boots for mans’.

At the same time, we have images in search suggestions. Not just that, but we also have a brandname and the price of the product. It is really cool that the search engine not only provides the user with a couple of visual examples of what the search term ‘boots’ could mean for it, but also lists the price of the item. What has happened here is that the user has engaged into negotiation even before hitting Enter on the search bar. To be able to do this, the search engine must be capable of dynamically processing keywords and recognizing keystrokes in real time.

3. Search Engine Analytics

Since it is a major site of user interaction, your search engine has the ability to collect priceless data about customer behaviour and preferences. The analysis of this data is absolutely necessary for search engines with smart capabilities when it comes to suggestions. One can learn more about trends in the marketplace, customer preferences and helps you monitor important keywords and to discover new ones. A quick example of this is Google Analytics Tool, that you can utilize with your website to get the most out of the user engagement of your search engine.

It is important to understand the value of customer interaction when it comes to online retail. In a brick and mortar shop, when a customer comes in looking for a microwave, the salesman asks them about a price range, suggests a few models, then goes into detail about a particular model or two, tells you that the product is available in other colors and sizes, even tells you their personal opinion about a product. The sale is virtually impossible without all this interaction. The search bar is in most cases the first point of customer interaction, and it is important that you make the most of it as an online seller.

To know more, get in touch with Browntape. We are India’s leading ecommerce solutions experts, and we are always happy to help!

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