Magazine Article | October 20, 2008

Is Your Online Search Tool Costing You Sales?

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

After implementing a hosted search service, this retailerĂ¢â‚¬™s online store increased sales 25%.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, November 2008

Consider the importance of an intuitive search tool as it applies to your online store. Research conducted by Aberdeen Group states that 83% of leading online companies generate a positive ROI from their websites' search applications. Your search tool must contain keywords that will lead your customers to the product they're looking for — or you stand to lose the sale. For example, unless customers key in the exact name of the product, they will not receive any results at all, even if the product exists. Search tools have to account for things such as spelling errors and spaces between words. Carolina Rustica, a furniture retailer that operates a brick & mortar store as well as an online store, experienced this problem for years with its search tool. Richard Sexton, president of Carolina Rustica, launched its online B2C store ( in 2000.

Insufficient Search Functions May Repel Customers
The online store's original site search functionality was part of an open source e-commerce platform. The program worked well when the retailer had fewer than 2,000 products in its online store. When that number increased to more than 25,000, a robust platform was needed to handle the increasing number of searches. "The more products we add, the better search functionality our customers need," explains Sexton. "If customers so much as spelled a word wrong, the search didn't render any results. In order for people to navigate our site properly, we needed to have a supporting function to site navigation." An additional problem was that the old search tool was a memory-intensive program. The more people that searched on the site at once, the slower it got.

Intuitive Search Function Offers More Than One Result
Sexton began looking for a better solution in 2006. He wanted to increase sales conversions by improving search functionality. He researched a few companies and chose SLI Systems, a developer of learning-based search and navigation technology for publishers, e-commerce, and corporate Web sites. SLI Systems offers functions the retailer needs. First, it learns and prioritizes the most relevant search results based on the products people click on. In other words, if a customer types 'baker's rack' into the search bar, and there seems to be one baker's rack that people click on most, it moves that item to the top of the list. Second, it embeds customer searches within the product page, providing alternate navigation for the site. For example, suppose a customer searches for 'baker's rack' again. If the search engine realizes that people are also searching for 'standing rack,' it will embed code on the page to display the message, 'Other customers have searched for standing racks.'

The vendor handled almost the entire implementation process. The retailer simply had to embed a portion of SLI Systems' code onto its website. "We had to incorporate its search bar and search parameters onto our website," explains Sexton. The vendor handled the rest of the work remotely. There were no on-site requirements at any point for either company. The process took two to three weeks to complete. The vendor took the retailer's website template (i.e. the homepage) and put it on its server. Though transparent to the customer, when the customer exits Carolina Rustica's homepage, SLI Systems' server takes over and conducts the searching and sorting processes. As soon as the customer clicks on a specific product (e.g. to make a purchase), they are rerouted back to the retailer's website.

Since implementing the vendor's search solution, the retailer has increased sales 25%. Also, employees can now offer more hands-on assistance to customers over the phone or in the store. 

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