In the highly competitive e-commerce space, it is important to capture consumers’ attention the moment they arrive on a site. The array of products available on the internet is dumbfounding for online shoppers, who have millions of e-commerce sites vying for their attention. Consumers can make shopping choices almost as fast as they can think, and if one site fails to immediately engage them with the products they want, a mere click will have them falling into the outstretched, awaiting arms of another business.
Search is the critical beginning of the shopping journey that shapes customer engagement and drives site revenue, and increasingly, online retailers are realizing that even their most dazzling and well-priced products have to be discovered by the right consumers in order to be profitable. To remain competitive, e-retailers are turning to AI to help specific customers find specific products instantly—and in doing so, they are engaging customers on a whole new level.
The factor that will separate e-commerce survivors from e-commerce superstars in the next 12 to 18 months will be their ability to adapt their site search capabilities to take advantage of the latest developments in 1:1 individualization. A majority of e-commerce businesses are now using third-party AI solutions to accomplish this, ensuring that each visitor’s shopping experience is highly customized and as easy as pie from the very first click. The technology acts like a personal shopper embedded in the site, working intelligently behind the scenes and curating ultra-targeted products to suit each customer’s needs. The result? Visitors hit “buy” more often, and when they do, they buy more.
E-commerce search: Going beyond “just” recommendations
A truly 1:1 individualization solution goes far beyond the level of generating suggested products, herding customers cattle-like through a shopping experience based on general demographics. A 1:1 platform is incredibly nuanced, optimizing each customer’s experience at every step by precisely intuiting their purchasing intent and using what it learns to connect the entire customer journey. The AI adapts from moment to moment to understand the customer more fully, pivoting from the very first click and suggesting new products accordingly.
Of course, e-commerce performance is driven by more than just search. The magic of individualization is that it can be used across all digital touchpoints: search, content, pages, recommendations, and emails. This creates a “flywheel” effect that delivers dramatic improvements in site conversions and customer engagement.
The irony of individualization technology is that despite the complexity of AI that can interpret consumer behavior on such a deep level, the experience couldn’t seem simpler from the customer’s perspective. Site visitors find what they need effortlessly. They think, “It understands me. It knows what I want. This brand must be a perfect fit for me.” This comfortable feeling is magnified when a site uses natural language processing (NLP), allowing users to search efficiently using just the words and phrases they automatically use every day.
Here’s how online retailers are succeeding in engaging customers lightning-fast, securing their attention and giving them better opportunities to convert through every phase of their search.
Customer engagement through 1:1 e-commerce search
The generally accepted keys to e-commerce growth are to increase:
- Quality website traffic that yields revenue
- Conversion rates
- Order numbers
- Average price per unit
- Average number of units per order
- Average order value
As any successful online retailer knows, the strategic use of data to engage customers will improve all of these metrics and drive more revenue. In fact, 25% of retailers are already using visitors’ search engine behavior data before they arrive onsite for this very purpose.
What a further 25% of e-commerce businesses are doing differently is taking that to the next level by automatically individualizing onsite experiences in real-time. Real-time individualization truly kicks things up a notch. Adapting moment-to-moment, AI has the ability to prioritize what a potential customer sees at every stage of their shopping journey, according to what it gleans from individual profiles, demographics, recent visits, session intent, a propensity to buy, and more.
According to a recent study, using AI at this level of sophistication has proven to give these businesses a significant advantage over others when it comes to engaging customers more deeply. These deeply engaged customers convert more often and spend more with every order—effectively multiplying the revenue of the companies they buy from.
Six ways to optimize e-commerce searchSo what customer engagement solutions are these hyper-successful e-commerce businesses using? It turns out there are six core ways they are optimizing e-commerce search:
1. Search auto-complete
From the moment a shopper begins typing, AI-empowered websites can automatically suggest keywords based on real-time 1:1 individualization. The tech continually prioritizes results as it learns more about the customer’s preferences, making relevant suggestions to intensify their engagement. Sixty-five percent of e-commerce businesses are currently using this strategy.
2. Preview search
Preview search instantly provides visual and textual suggestions in the search bar based on information AI gleans about the customer, click by click. Sixty-three percent of online retailers are now prioritizing preview search, enabling them to showcase the right products for visitors from the moment they begin interacting with the site.
3. Full-page search
Full-page search hyper-focuses a website’s search result page on products it deems most relevant to each customer. 54% of e-commerce businesses are currently using this strategy to showcase, filter, sort, and navigate products as users interact with their sites. Customers can still slice and dice the catalog, toying with it according to their own criteria until they find what they like. The choice is theirs.
4. Mobile search
51% of businesses are using AI to individualize and optimize shopping experiences on mobile devices such as phones and tablets. More than ever, consumers—millennials and Gen Z’ers in particular—want to be able to do their shopping whenever they want, wherever they are, and smart businesses will happily facilitate that.
5. Natural language processing search
A full 45% of e-commerce businesses are recognizing the importance of having natural language (NLP) at work on their sites. NLP is a constantly evolving technology that helps search understand retail-specific terms customers tend to use. It can learn and leverage language related to pricing, sales, promotions, and product sizing and stockpile synonyms, adjectives, and modifiers so it can understand phrases like “blue shoes under $30” or “cocktail dresses.” Sure, shoppers can use elaborate filters to find products with the attributes they want in the right price range, but why would they bother if they can just use human speak?
6. Store and product-level search
Lastly, 44% of online retailers use AI so that individual visitors can search for stores by zip code and/or show stores where their desired products are available. Even though shipping services are getting faster and faster, having a same-day pickup and Shop Local option can be very appealing to customers.
How can 1:1 individualization increase revenue?
Evidence suggests that when AI guides shoppers through the search process in a hyper-individualized way, the increase in their level of engagement is dramatic and measurable. Typically, an e-commerce business will see this phenomenon expressed through:
- More page views
- More time customers spend onsite
- More money spent per customer search
- More money spent per visitor
- A higher add-to-cart rate
- A higher average order
- A higher rate of conversion
Increasing all of these metrics at once has a dramatic impact on revenue growth, making implementing a 1:1 individualization solution a wise investment for e-commerce businesses in the coming year.
Furthermore, when customers interact with an e-commerce brand in a 1:1 individualized environment, they participate in creating a new level of value with the company. It makes the customer feel, “This company understands me.” That kind of engagement fosters customer retention and repeat purchases, and as studies suggest, it makes them buy up to 24% more during each visit. That’s a serious competitive edge.
Sitecore Discover’s Commerce Engagement Platform
Sitecore Discover's 1:1 individualization platform is always getting smarter, intuiting customer intent with unparalleled precision. Sitecore Discover gives customers a hyper-individualized experience from the moment they begin interacting with a site, from search preview to results. Moreover, its deep understanding of retail natural language makes it effortless for customers to discover the e-commerce products they are looking for, and when they find them, they spend more.