Creating an Exceptional User Experience with Site Search

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Have you ever sat down and watched someone as they browse your eCommerce store? If not, you should try it. Odds are they’ll have a more difficult time navigating your store than you do. Buttons that seem obvious to you may be entirely hidden to them. This incongruency between the experience for a visitor and the experience of an employee is costing your organization valuable sales.

When you spend everyday diving into the details of your site, you become deeply familiar with its’ layout and navigation. But new visitors don’t have this experience. Some of them might be seeing your site for the very first time.

If these new visitors can’t intuitively figure out your site, they won’t be coming back once they’ve left.

When we talk about the importance of user experience in eCommerce, the conversation boils down to the trade-off between giving users a great experience and focusing on selling so that you can stay in business. We treat the user experience and the selling process as incompatible ideas.

Today, we want to change this perception. We want eCommerce retailers everywhere to realize that if you want to increase sales and create a strong sales funnel, you need to create an exceptional user experience. After all, your customers are the people giving you their money.

Site Search & Navigation in eCommerce

So where exactly does site search fit in with an eCommerce user experience? As you’re about to see – virtually everywhere. When a user visits your website, they’re likely to do one of two things.

  • Browse. Look through your product lineup, check out the about page, and hone in on a particular product or two.
  • Buy. Compare different models of a similar product, search for what they want, and check out.

What’s important about these two unique actions is that they both fundamentally involve on-site search. In the first scenario, the visitor explores your website through its’ category pages and navigation. Alternatively, when visitors are looking for a specific product to buy, they use the on-site search tool to quickly locate their desired product.

What does this all mean? Regardless of their goal (browse or buy), site search has a major impact on the experience your visitors have.

Now you may be thinking, “my site search is adequate, therefore visitors should be having a good experience.” But is that how you want your customers to feel during and after the purchase process? If a visitor is just about to convert into a sale, do you want them feeling ‘okay’? After someone has bought from you, do you want them to tell their friends the experience was ‘alright’? Probably not.

The experience someone has on your website influences everything from their willingness to buy, average order value, repeat purchases, and spreading the word about your organization. When it comes to user experience, site search can be a make or break factor.

However, if done well, search can lift your user experience to rival the engagement and candor most massive, multinational retailers dream about. Site search can pave the way for more personalized experiences, a simplified navigation, and an intuitive interface.

The value of a great user experience is obvious. Let’s take a look at what you can do to emulate these experiences in your own eCommerce store.

Creating a Better UX with Site Search

Now the specific tricks and design guidelines to improve the user experience of your site search are endless. So we won’t give you a huge list, though the 4 links we just included in the last sentence would be an excellent place to start!

Think about your user experience in terms of 3 main factors:

Functionality: Does you navigation work? Can your search return fast, accurate results? Do you offer Autocomplete?
At its core, your user experience is about enabling visitors to perform the actions they want. If your functionality is broken, weak, or non-existent, that’s a huge blow to the overall usability of your eCommerce store.

Design: Can a user easily find the search box moments after coming onto the site? Is the website organized in a logical way? Is the search box above the fold?
Not to mention the usual colour theory, typography, and call-to-action considerations that go along with UI/UX design. Effective design helps guide user behaviour, create intuitive browsing experiences, and ultimately reduces the ‘noise’ typically found throughout a website.

Workflow: What does a user do after adding something to their cart? Can they add and subtract search refinements to narrow or expand their results? Is shipping information included in the product detail page? Can you compare products?
This can often be the most frustrating aspect of an eCommerce store experience. The workflow isn’t laid out intuitively, or certain information or steps have been omitted. Workflows should be logical, simple, and readily available from your web pages. If you want to map this out on your own site, try following a typical buyer’s journey on your store.

Browse through some product pages. Make a site search using synonyms or uncommon terms for the product. Make some refinements and browse particular products. Add it to your cart. Remove it. Add something else. Find shipping information. Quit the browser and load the page again. Try to checkout. Request support during your visit.

In the software world, this can be known as ‘eating your own dog food.’ Try out your product. Use it as a user would – and get the same experience.

The Real ROI of Exceptional Experiences

Most eCommerce retailers understand the importance of creating fantastic experiences for their visitors. They know the importance of keeping a user base happy. But this doesn’t always translate into dedicating projects and resources to improve their UX. It’s not that they don’t know what to do (after all, we just gave you some suggestions in the last paragraph!) but rather that they don’t see the immediate value from it.

User experience is one of those ephemeral areas of a business, where people know it’s important, but don’t allocate many resources, personnel, or time to developing it. Let’s take a quick look at the tangible ROI a better user experience can bring to your organization.

Save lost sales. Poor user experience is a fundamental driver of cart abandonment. By steadily improving the experience visitors have, you can reclaim some of these lost sales or stop a few visitors from bouncing upon arrival.
Imagine that with these steady improvements you were able to convert just 1% of the people who would have otherwise abandoned their cart. If you have 5000 abandoned carts per month, at a $10 average order value, that’s $500 in additional revenue you could save each month. That’s $6000 a year!

Create brand advocates. Have you ever seen anyone have a bad experience with a company, and then go out and promote them to the public? It doesn’t really happen. Even with a good experience, creating brand advocates is difficult. But make no mistake, you will only get brand advocates if you have a great user experience that helps them quickly find exactly what they want.
According to studies done on Fashion & eCommerce, each time someone shares a product on social media, businesses make an estimated $2.04 in revenue. Not bad, eh? Real revenue and real sales stem from brand advocates, and a great UX can help you find them.

Establish customer loyalty. Nothing complicated about this one. If you have a great experience on one website, you’re far more likely to return to that site to buy your next product. Returning customers are far more valuable to companies than new customers, and user experience is a great and indirect way to foster this loyalty in your user base.

Creating loyal customers has a profound impact on the lifetime value of customers, which is an incredible metric you can use to gauge your profitability and estimate your sales velocity.

Over to you now. Do you have any success with User Experience design in your eCommerce store? Want to find out how site search can augment these efforts? We’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter at @Nextopia, or over a call at 800-360-2191.

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