Retailers can gather important insights on customer intent through what they search for. Search results should serve the customers’ interest and that of the retailer.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are absolutely critical events for any e-commerce business, and both are major opportunities to connect with consumers online. While the holiday season presents an enormous opportunity to reach consumers online, the smallest mistake—including an outage or lag time—can harm a retailer’s bottom line. We saw this in 2017, when large retailers such as Lowe's and H&M experienced Black Friday online outages caused by high volumes of traffic.
Poor search capabilities can also push consumers away from a website. When expectations aren’t met through fast and relevant search results, potential customers may abandon one retailer for its competitor, causing the company to lose out on sales and miss its revenue goals. Search analytics can be used to discover what shoppers are searching for ahead of the holiday season and what they are searching for but not finding. How then can companies make the most of the season while avoiding missteps?
Here are tips that start with preparation and conclude with Black Friday
1. Ready e-commerce systems to handle the charge
Just like any other day, shoppers will expect a Google- or Amazon-like experience on your website. But more than any other day, the cost of failing that expectation is monumental.
Your competitors are spending just as much money and effort in acquiring customers. A user will abandon bad sites for competitors after two to three seconds. This means that every additional delay on a website will lead visitors to the competitors and lead to a loss in revenue.
Whether companies handle their own search infrastructure or trust a third-party provider for their various services and technologies, they should make sure their systems are ready to handle such load increases.
2. Focus on the mobile experience
According to Adobe’s Digital Insights 2017 Holiday Predictions Report, mobile devices accounted for 55 percent of all traffic and 36 percent of revenue between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday 2016.
From landing pages to payment, the mobile shopping experience should not be an afterthought. Building mobile experiences means much more than having a responsive website. For instance, many of the difficulties on the mobile platform come from the extreme limitation of display space.
A common mistake is wanting to display all of the data at hand as one would on a desktop. Companies must aim to understand how their shoppers browse for products on their phones. For items that are selected visually—like shoes or clothes—update a mobile website or app in advance by presenting search results as enlarged pictures to help improve the mobile user experience.
3. Keep inventory up to date
While creating scarcity is a powerful strategy to accelerate the purchase decision, showing products that won’t be shipped to your shoppers before the end of the holiday season will cause users to bounce. It also wastes screen real estate for products that won’t generate any sales.
Companies should ensure that products displayed on their homepage, in recommendations or in searches, are in-stock and available to ship by the holiday. Considering the volume and frequency of transactions during the holiday season, it sometimes means millions of updates to the product database every day. Every system needs to pick up on these changes to keep inventory accurate, which requires a large-scale, agile system.
4. Anticipate shoppers’ wishes
A company’s inventory is one of its greatest assets, and it should align with customers’ needs. Search analytics can be used to discover what articles shoppers are searching for ahead of the holiday season and, more importantly, what they are searching for but not finding. These insights can be used to adapt the catalog, plan deals or improve the advertising and SEO strategy.
5. Leverage existing content
Companies can take advantage of public content, such as reviews, blog posts and shopping guides, by posting them directly on their sites. This can be shown alongside product pages and search results to help inform and influence shoppers’ purchasing decisions.
6. Create an ongoing search
Shoppers who know what products they want will probably perform extremely precise searches ahead of Black Friday to find out if a company sells what they are looking for. Companies should then propose that the customer save their search, so they can easily find the products they have been looking for when they return to the site. Companies should also enable shoppers to set up search alerts that notify them via email when a new product appears in their search or when a search result reaches a certain pricing level. These alerts will keep the search fresh in the customers’ minds, motivating them to come back to the search when ready to buy.
7. Be flexible with merchandising
Unlike brick-and-mortar stores, online stores provide the luxury of reorganizing the merchandise in one click—or even automatically. Shoppers will look for the best deals, so allow them to rank results by best discount rate. Create a strategic scarcity by ranking first the products with limited sales time. If there is a doorbuster offer, but a company still wants to preserve its margins, it can rank this doorbuster first for relevant queries and then prioritize products with the higher margins. The important thing is to be able to configure the ranking logic of search according to what matters to the shoppers—and to the business.
8. Don’t just analyze purchases—analyze search!
Companies can learn a lot about their customers by what they search for. Through these insights, customers communicate a wide range of information, including how well the searches converted, navigation patterns and popular brands searched. This data is imperative to improving the customer experience and seeing better results throughout the year and into the next holiday season.
9. Turn first-time holiday shoppers into engaged customers
Throughout the holiday season, companies will acquire new shoppers, thanks to unmatched offers on specific products, and increased advertising efforts. And—if they executed well on the above tips—chances are those consumers will like the overall experience and return to the store during other points in the year. So after the holiday season winds down, teams should reflect on what went well, what did not and start planning long-term investments they can implement for next year, and once again capitalize on the holiday shopping rush.
Search, for example, has moved far beyond the search box, to include advanced features such as navigation and personalization. The logical next step is to search without the box. Shoppers are getting more and more familiar with advanced UIs such as voice and chatbots, and will expect to be able to find their favorite products through those interfaces.
Although sometimes considered a retailer’s e-commerce experience afterthought, the search can have a sizeable impact on the bottom line when it fails. Not only should the search be seen as a critical path to conversion, but the search should also be considered a strategic marketing and merchandising tool that when done right can significantly boost the performances of a business.
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