Ready Your Site Search for the Holiday Season
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the craziness of the holiday shopping will soon be upon you. If you’re in retail, Cyber Monday—the Monday after Thanksgiving—is probably your biggest online sales event of the year. Research from Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) predicts that this year online sales for the holiday season are likely to break $100 billion US for the first time, with Cyber Monday emerging as the biggest sales day of the season.
It’s no surprise then that most major retail brands have already published their promotions for Cyber Monday. If you’re one of these brands, you have invested significant time and money in designing electronic direct mails (EDMs), setting up a social media campaign, buying search keyword ads, advertising offline, and remarketing to visitors—all with the goal of pushing traffic to your site.
Sounds like you are all set, but are you fully prepared to glean every opportunity that you can from this sales phenomenon? If you haven’t included search in your plan, the answer is “No!”
While much of the year you can take a set and forget approach to your site search engine, Cyber Monday—and really the week that starts on Thanksgiving and stretches through the end of Cyber Monday—is different. People have money that they’re ready to spend over a very short period of time. Site search is one of your most important tools for helping them easily find your promotions and spend their money on your site rather than on your competitors’.
In this blog post, I want to share six tips for optimizing your customer’s site search experience to drive those sales.
Tip 1: Create category landing pages
Your business sells different categories of products. If you’re a sports retailer, you might sell footwear, athletic wear, sports equipment, and so on. But if you’re an online electronics retailer, you likely sell TVs, computers, gift items, and so on. Build a landing page for your major categories and make sure they clearly align with your brand’s look and feel. When your customers find these pages via search, they quickly know where they are on your site and the types of products you sell.
Also—don’t forget to use the promotional banners on these pages to deliver key messages. For example, if you are an online cookware company, when people search for “Dutch ovens” on your site, create a banner for the landing page with your most important cookware-related offer—50% off all Black Friday purchases, free two-day shipping, or whatever that offer is.
Tip 2: Promote key products
If your customers don’t know about your discounted products, they can’t buy them. During the holiday season, you probably have specific products with significant discounts—perhaps because you’re trying to clear out old inventory to make way for new products, or maybe these are your hottest sellers and you want to capitalize on their popularity by making them more enticing to buy. Be sure to tune your search engine to promote these products and encourage customers to purchase them. Your search algorithm should enable you to promote products to the top of search results based on criteria such as discount level, popularity, and number of page views.
Tip 3: Help customers zero in on results
A recent Forrester report points out that if a website provides an unsatisfactory customer experience, 68% of customers state that they are unlikely to return. Today people don’t just buy products, they buy experiences. If your site search experience fails to meet customer expectations, they’ll bounce right over to your competitor’s site. Here’s the problem though—while your site visitors may know what they are looking for, they might not know how to describe it precisely or by name. Your site search solution needs to provide synonyms, word stemming, auto-correct, and other search assistants to cast a wider net and capture what they’re seeking.
In addition, as a key best practice, regularly look at the search terms your visitors use to see what’s trending and to discover the most-searched terms that return no results. Make sure that searches on these terms return relevant results.
Tip 4: Use social proof
Customers can be indecisive when they see too many great offers—it’s the Paradox of Choice issue at play. One of the best ways to help your customers more easily reach a decision is to provide social proof of the goodness of a product with customer reviews. Remember, the faster they can research and come to a buy or don’t buy decision, the more products they can browse on your site. By the way, if you discover higher rated items that are big sellers, consider promoting those products to the top of your search results to encourage more sales.
Tip 5: Dynamic refinement
You can use the metadata associated with your products to add filters to your search. But here’s something you may not have considered—products in your different categories may have very different metadata. Instead of showing filters all in the same order for every product category, let your site search solution dynamically change their order. For example, brand could be the most important factor for a customer searching on mobile phones because the costs for phones can be dramatically different between brands. In comparison, with running, tennis, or basketball shoes, shoe size is likely more important than brand, so put that first, followed by brand and other relevant filters.
Tip 6: Offer alternatives when inventory runs out
Running out of inventory is a problem that many retailers would like to have. After all, it probably means that customers purchased more than you could have imagined in your wildest dreams. Keep in mind though, that few customer experiences are worse than searching for something you really want and getting an out-of-stock result. Be sure to filter your search results by inventory to ensure results always show something relevant for your visitors to buy. This tactic works beyond retail—travel and hospitality companies have employed it to provide attractive alternatives that might have been lost had the customer seen a results page with “Not available” for a property they tried to book. Consider further encouraging purchases of these alternatives by adding social proof to your results page that indicates how many people have bought the item.
Deliver exceptional site search experiences every day
While the holiday shopping season may inspire you to review and tune the site search experience customers have on your web site, just think how much more business you could do if you focused on doing that year round. It’s really just a matter of using search to keep visitors on your site and encouraging them to make purchases while there—that’s something you can do any time of year by paying extra attention to their daily search behavior and fine-tuning the results they receive.