According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, 44% of shopping will take place online this holiday season – an increase from 40% last year and a record since the organization began the study in 2006. The key takeaway from this statistic should come as no surprise: online shopping has grown tremendously over the last decade, and is expected to overtake brick-and-mortar shopping in the near future.
Though this trend might seem to inspire optimism in online retailers, analysts estimate that there are well over 100,000 ecommerce websites on the web, making it exceedingly difficult for these sites to stand out from their competitors. In this environment, site owners need to seize any advantage they can – and a powerful site search is one of the easiest ways to gain a competitive edge.
Here’s why site search is so important for ecommerce stores, and why site owners can’t afford to ignore it:
- Visitors expect great search. As we’ve written before, when most people think of search, they think of Google. Google provides such a robust search experience that many people begin their browsing sessions with a Google search – and users expect that same experience when they land on individual websites (30% of ecommerce site visitors use search, and this is expected to rise as time goes on). Disappointing search will quickly frustrate users and make them leave your site, causing you to lose out on a huge percentage of your customers.The most successful ecommerce sites have adapted to these expectations by prominently placing a search bar on their homepage. Consider Amazon.com. Amazon has experimented with a range of homepage layouts, beginning with a sidebar listing categories and eventually moving towards a simple interface with a prominent search bar. Because Amazon is the undisputed leader in online retail, their use of such a prominent search bar has heightened user expectations for this interface across the web.December 31, 2007. Amazon’s search bar is buried at the bottom of their homepage, and the sidebar navigation is the primary way for users to find products.
July 31, 2008. The search bar is now prominently displayed, but the sidebar remains in place as a navigational tool.April 30, 2012. Amazon eliminates the sidebar, offering instead a single search bar to serve as the primary portal for users entering the site.
- Searchers are high value visitors. Customers who use the search bar typically have a clear idea of what they want, and are more likely to buy on your site if they can quickly find what they are looking for. In fact, customers who perform a search are 40% more likely to convert than users who don’t. By meeting these users’ expectations and providing a rich search experience with features like autocomplete and faceted navigation, site owners can capitalize and dramatically increase conversions.
- Most sites have weak search. In June, Baymard Institute conducted a comprehensive study of internal site search across 19 major ecommerce websites, concluding that, for the most part, “search doesn’t work very well.” Part of this study looked at the range of query types that ecommerce websites typically field, paired with an analysis of how well equipped the leading websites are to handle these queries. The results showed that most site search engines can only handle relatively simple query types, demonstrating the need for an advanced search algorithm to power your internal search.
For an explanation of how these various queries differ, see the original article.
- Search bars generate invaluable user data. One of the major reasons why websites like Amazon have moved towards featuring such a prominently displayed search bar is because user generated queries provide such valuable insight about what users hope to get from your website. When intelligently collected and organized, site owners can leverage this data to make key business decisions, such as what items to promote, what items to order more of, or how to move forward on your SEO/SEM campaigns.