The Opportunity
The next big opportunity on the horizon for Ecommerce web sites to continue to grow their share of consumer spending is enhancing product discovery especially in their search and navigation functionality. Product Discovery defined for this articles’ purpose – “The ability for a “bottom of funnel” customer to find exactly what they are looking for in less than 3 minutes.” Customers expect an online shopping experience to be faster and more informative than in-store. Until this is achieved, most ecommerce sites will struggle to increase the average conversion rate of 3%.

The Current State
According to recent surveys by eMarketer, 2/3 of consumers still prefer to shop in-store because they can quickly control what products they see based on their ability to quickly scan the store and narrow in on the items that are most relevant and easily decide on a purchase. Today’s ecommerce sites, mostly use merchant defined categorization and product attributes that are limited to facts like color and size. So, the navigation can help narrow down a product assortment only so far. Site Search in most cases is not intelligent enough to return a reasonable subset of products because of the same limitations in product data, even if a customer searches by long tail queries like “black dress short sleeve with pleats and v-neck good for prom”.

A significant time and dollar investment would be necessary to enhance product data to a point where it truly answers all of a customer’s questions as well as examining an item in-store. For most ecommerce sites, this is not feasible. Also, in addition to the ‘facts’ about a product, there are many subjective observations made by a customer while shopping that are not possible to predict and include in product data.

Where do we go from here?
So, where does this lead? How do we make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for without a lot of labor hours?

Along the journey to improve customer experience, many have tried things like Personal Shoppers (check out Operator.com for the latest), Content Personalization (Reflektion, Monetate, Certona, Mercent), Real-time chat (LivePerson, Olark, LiveChat) and Co-browsing (LiveChat, Kana, Egain, RightNow), but those again have been too labor intensive, therefore cost prohibitive unless you are selling products with very high margin dollars – High dollar electronics vs. everyday apparel.

The answer lies in smarter search and navigation. There are some new solutions on the forefront of this revolution. You might think naturally of a typical search and navigation provider like Endeca, Solr, Nextopia, Celebros, EasyAsk, SLI, RichRelevance for innovation here, however as is often the case, the innovation is coming from smaller startups.

EdgeCase (formerly Compare Metrics) – “Edgecase empowers shoppers with the freedom to discover products on their own terms, using their unique language, preferences and shopping habits.”

Features :

  • Allows customers to define a product attribute like “machine washable” as a must have or a nice to have, so the ranking engine can filter or sort accordingly.
  • Allows customers to choose “more like this” when they see a product that is close to what they are looking for.
  • It translates product characteristics provided by mfr data into natural language attributes.
  • Edgecase natural language product attributes

  • It doesn’t allow “no search results” dead end page – instead it shows products “like” the search query.
  • It uses the customer’s browsing behavior to provide the adaptive navigation and better search results.
  • Idea started in a dorm-room and business now funded by $8 million in venture capital. Assisted by strong board members with years of internet startup experience. Customers include Crate & Barrel, Urban Decay.


    Inferlytics – “Customer Powered Search & Navigation. Smart Search, Smart Navigation, Smart Results”

    Features :

  • Built for optimizing consumer product discovery, selection and rapid convergence to shopping cart via smarter, individualized search results and adaptive navigation.
  • Search is customized for your domain and product assortment, natural language processing is used for search results and relevance rankings, and constantly learns and adjusts to your customer’s browsing behaviors. You maintain control to define query landing pages, relevance criteria, sort order, boost/bury and more. You can display ad & promotions based on keywords, customize SRP layouts by category for best conversion, and turn your search box into a true marketing asset.
  • Faceted Navigation attribute filters and Search Results will “adapt” based on each individual’s experience and shopping patterns. Product sets shown will be more relevant to that individual customer’s true needs.
  • Inferlytics Search and Navigation results

  • Offered as SAAS, easily added as a “layer’ to the site. They will do the integration development work as part of package.
  • Delivers key performance metrics retailers need.
  • o Site Conversion increase
    o Customer satisfaction scores increase
    o Repeat customers increase
    o Search visibility increase
    o Customer Experience & Usability improvement

  • Uses proprietary advanced data mining, analytics and “big data”, utilizing customer browsing behavior, search terms, wish list and add-to-cart metrics, and product descriptions unstructured data, as well as user-generated content in product reviews and social comments both from your site and from the general internet.
  • Wisdom of the crowd based product attributes

  • Search engines take advantage of this new data for distinct and unique SEO advantages.
  • Inferlytics is a subsidiary of RareMile Technologies (http://www.raremile.com ), a Deloitte Technology Fast 500, and RedHerring 100 Winner. As specialists in “virtual” technology research & development, text mining & analytics, predictive analytics, advanced mobility solutions, and retail innovations, RareMile developed Inferlytics based on the gaps they saw in the ecommerce site search and navigation intelligence working with e-tailers. Funded by Venture Capital and supported by strong VC involvement as well as industry veterans as consultants. Customers include: Skincare by Alana, and first major dept store customer release to be announced in June.


    BloomReach – “Personalized Discovery Platform understands and matches your content to what people are seeking”

    Features:

  • Gains customers by maximizing content for organic search – adds crawlable links, auto pops related products, and recommends thematic pages.
  • Organic_Search_Solution2_-_BloomReach

    Organic_Search_Solution_-_BloomReach

  • Personalizes the onsite search and navigation with boost/bury, facet controls, cross device pollination, autosuggest, predictive search, “More Like This” visual browsing, social trend reveals and adaptive navigation.
  • Compass_-_BloomReach

  • Optimizes merchandizing by determining the best conversion placement of products, identifying missing category assortment products and upsell/cross-sell opportunities based on “customers also viewed” data.
  • BloomReach’s core technology, the Web Relevance Engine (WRE), harnesses the power of big data, machine learning and large-scale systems science to match relevant products to consumers at scale, continuously predicting and adapting in real time to changes in consumer web behavior, queries, site content, competitive content and inventory.
  • BloomReach was started in 2009. Has landed $36 million funding, and won 2012 and 2013 Red Herring Top 100 Awards. Top customers include Williams –Sonoma, Staples, Drugstore.com, Nieman Marcus

    Summary
    People that know me have always seen me lead the pack in trying out new methods, new software, new ideas to optimize ecommerce sites. Adaptive Search is not new to Google, and was added to Bing in late 2011. Adaptive Navigation is cutting edge. And every CEO seems to be asking the question of their execs “How are we using Big Data?”

    So, it’s time for retailers to move quickly on adding these features to ecommerce sites. Check out the solutions I’ve presented and test drive as soon as you can. Don’t wait for others to try it first and they can win the race to your customer’s wallet.

    Need help? Drop me an email.

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