Site search is driving change at eBay
Online retailers have started to see the light.
Site search is fundamental to successful conversion, and major online players such as eBay and Wal-Mart are realising that if their site search doesn't work, their customers won't buy.
This Reuters article explains:
If [the customer] cannot find what they want quickly, they will likely go to a rival website or venture into a physical store.
The search engine is the interface most customers use to find what they want to buy. It's like the Shop Assistant in a physical store, it's where the customer goes for help and they expect to get a sensible answer that shows they have been listened to and understood.
When Mark Carges was first appointed as CTO at eBay in 2008, he tested their site search function (known as Voyager).
Entering "iPod" returned a car at the top of the results.
When I was writing this post on visual search results I entered "small camera" into the Best Buy search engine and got a page full of camera bags.
Can you imagine what you'd think of a sales assistant if you asked for an iPod and they showed you a car?
My patience would wear thin quite quickly, but okay, I'm from Yorkshire, maybe not the best barometer, my patience is always pretty thin, but I think even the most easy-going shopper would lose confidence in a store if they were shown a load of bags when they had asked to see a camera.
The thing is, we don't treat our customers like that in the physical store, but for years etailers have been treating their customers like that online.
Things are changing.
At eBay they have built a team of over 150 people to code the successor to Voyager, to be known as Cassini
More customers, plus better search, means people buy more stuff
John Donahoe, CEO of eBay
Where Voyager simply matched search terms entered by the user with descriptive words held against each item, Cassini will take a much wider contextual view, including using personal account information of both the customer and the seller to help provide a more personal experience.
This means that when Voyager saw that the car had an iPod adaptor and got all excited and threw it to the top of the results, Cassini will look deeper and understand that a car is not an internet tablet and keep looking for something more suitable.
The stakes have never been higher for whoever can deliver a high-quality shopping search experience for consumers
Oren Etzioni, Founder of Farecast and Decide.com
Indeed, eCommerce is the one sector which keeps growing and growing despite, or perhaps partly because of, the difficult economic times. According to comScore, eCommerce grew 13% in 2011 in the US and continues to boom in the UK and Europe.
Not only that, the forces for change are building up:
- Suppliers are getting more competitive and getting better at not just web sales, but the whole end-to-end logistics process;
- Customers are getting more confident and more demanding;
- Technology is getting more agile and sophisticated; and
- The tough economic climate is forcing customers to get ever more discerning in searching for the best deals.
The importance of search in this process is becoming more and more understood. From being an out-the-box add-on with little attention paid to it, it's potential to drive conversion is only now being recognised.