It seems like a simple, straightforward concept - a shopper types a search word or phrase into the search box on an ecommerce site and voila! The shopper gets what the shopper ordered. At least that's how it happens sometimes.
While the process of delivering the right product to the right person at the right time seems elementary, doing it right is actually very complex, and many retailers are still not doing it well. The art and science of "product findability" touches nearly every part of a retail organization across all channels, customer touch points and functions. And it affects the bottom line as the ability for shoppers to easily find what they are looking for has a direct impact on average order value, conversion and loyalty. Aligning all parts of a business around the concept of maximizing product findability is the first step in creating the truly seamless, frictionless experience that customers are demanding.
Product Findability Starts with Good Data
Before starting down the path of improving product findability, take stock of your data situation. Effective product findability is driven by the intersection of real-time customer behavior, demographic, geographic and historical customer data, combined with enhanced product data. You should have a good understanding of how all of this data is collected, managed, stored and accessed by the technologies that power product findability. Data quality and accessibility are the single biggest predictors of product findability efficacy.
Enhance Your Product Data
Product data is often overlooked when thinking about product findability. Retailers, however, can no longer rely on basic product data to do the heavy lifting of connecting people and products. Advances in natural language search technologies are supporting finding products the way shoppers think about them. Digital assistants and mobile voice-to-text are the most prominent examples of natural language search today, and they will have a big impact on digital commerce tomorrow.
All retailers should consider implementing solutions that enhance product data beyond what is native to their digital commerce merchandising tools. These solutions will allow for the inclusion of natural language descriptors, product features, multi-word phrases, and problem and solution-oriented terminology - all of which should be accounted for in a comprehensive product data set.
Allowing for regional language nuances is also important in supporting product relevancy (for example "trousers" versus "pants", "backpack versus knapsack", and "soda" versus "pop"). A fully attributed product catalog delivers better search results, provides more relevant facets, filters, and drill-downs, powers more comprehensive data feeds and greatly improves the efficacy of personalization solutions.
Product Findability is Not One-Size-Fits-All
Products range widely in complexity and the duration of sales cycles. Complex, high-ticket items such as appliances, cars and furniture require more information and longer purchase cycles than commodities and apparel. It's important that your mix of product findability solutions makes sense for the types of products you sell, the sales channels you sell in and the process by which customers make purchase decisions.
For example, products with longer sales cycles are best supported by solutions which have guided selling features taking your customer through a process of selecting desired product attributes, and product comparison functionality allowing shoppers to compare line item product details and features against price differences. For product assortments with large and complex category structures, dynamic facets and filters generated from comprehensive product data helps your shopper get to a manageable number of relevant products quickly and efficiently.
Mobile Product Findability
Mobile continues to challenge retailers as mobile commerce traffic can be as high as 50 percent of total traffic, but mobile conversion rates remain approximately half that of desktop. Poor usability and difficulty finding products are some of the hurdles users face when shopping on small screens.
Given the limited screen size of mobile phones, navigation and search are critical in connecting people and products. Retailers should focus on how to design the optimal mobile user interface (UI) for their specific product catalog and customers. Nested fly-out navigation menus make good use of limited space and are an effective way to move shoppers through the product findability journey. Guided navigational elements such as dynamic facets and filters on mobile are a must-have, particularly for large and varied product assortments. Equally important is ensuring the search functionality is easily located on the mobile UI, and provides the shopper with smart search features such as auto-complete, suggested searches, auto-correct and multi-word key phrase recognition.
Product Findability Success is Not Achieved Overnight
Starting today, there are many things that can be done to improve product findability such as revisiting your digital commerce platform's capabilities with respect to connecting people and products and ensuring that all out-of-the-box product findability features and functionality are fully leveraged. Looking toward the future, retailers need to keep an eye on emerging technologies that will have a substantial impact on digital commerce, such as voice-to-text and visual search and consider these trends.
However, with product findability touching nearly every part of the retail enterprise, achieving long-term success requires a disciplined approach. Uniting your organization around the concept of product findability, understanding customer needs, defining product findability goals, assessing and identifying gaps in people, process and tools, building a roadmap is the best way to achieve product findability success and mitigate the risk of falling further behind.
Julie Barile has 17 years of digital commerce experience in both the mass and luxury markets. Having led digital marketing at several top global companies, including Avon, Lancome and Toys"R"Us, Julie's experience spans several product categories, business models, and corporate functions. Focusing on business strategy and technology selection, Julie has helped top online and multi-channel retailers gain operational efficiencies, grow their businesses, select best-fit technology solutions, and solve for their unique business challenges.