Boosting online sales conversions continue to be a challenge for retailers. Forrester Research Inc.’s The State of Retailing Online 2016: Key Metrics, Business Objectives, and Mobile found that 59% of the retailers surveyed were still reporting conversion rates below 3%.
This raises the question: What can companies do to increase conversions?
Enhancing the site search experience is an improvement that’s often underrated, but it can have a direct impact on conversions. Up to 30% of ecommerce site visitors use the search box, according to eConsultancy. When the search box is effective and optimized, Internet Retailer and eConsultancy both find that it converts at a rate 2-5x higher.
But there’s more to an effective site search than just having a search box on a website. The customer must be given relevant results, as part of a personalized experience. This is important because 90% of customers who use search don’t go past the first page of results. They will often abandon their search altogether if they can’t find information quickly, according to Forrester’s 2015 report, Google-ize Your Site Search Experience.
Endeca (rebranded as Oracle Commerce Guided Search) and BloomReach Commerce Search and Categories are among the options that large midmarket and enterprise retailers are turning to for site search technology. Each platform takes a unique approach to how the site search and browse experience is managed and controlled. This article will serve as a guide to help large midmarket and enterprise retailers decide which approach may be best for their business.
Endeca is a keyword-driven, on-premise search platform. It has configurable and extensible dynamic merchandising abilities that put more power in the hands of business users. The Experience Manager component allows the business user to configure more intelligent customer experiences through product spotlighting, personalization, and segmentation, using a company’s existing product content.
This technology requires a hands-on approach for support and maintenance, to ensure the software performs to its full capacity. There are a number of features that can be configured to provide customers with a tailored shopping experience in terms of the content they see, and the context in which it’s presented.
How search relevancy tuning is handled with Endeca
As outlined in RealDecoy’s Search Tuning blog post, search relevancy tuning is a manual task that should be completed regularly, at least every 6 months or after every meaningful catalog change, whichever is more frequent.
Endeca has a sophisticated system that allows for granular control of search result relevancy, with different modules that can be combined and re-arranged as needed.
The process of search tuning in Endeca involves development work as well as business team involvement. The business team evaluates and scores the current search performance based on what it believes a relevant set of search results would look like for a given set of search terms. A trained technical specialist will then update the Endeca relevancy strategy to obtain the highest scores. A relevancy strategy, in this context, refers to the strategy by which Endeca arranges search results in order to have the most relevant results appear at the top of the list. This is done multiple times to tune specific searches without affecting others.
The process requires the involvement of both business users and technical specialists. There are multiple steps in this process, which include:
- Business users gathering sets of search terms (usually the top search terms on the website).
- Business users reviewing the corresponding search results for each of the terms identified above, and scoring them based on relevancy (the higher the score the better the search relevancy).
- A technical specialist updating the Endeca relevancy strategy to increase the overall score, and business users re-evaluating once those changes have been made. This process usually repeats two or three times to get the best tuning score for search results.
- Business users working with the technical specialist to determine what value is being driven from search relevancy, and then considering how to improve the search results across the site and how to benefit from levering search features to assist with that.
How personalization is handled with Endeca
Personalization is achieved using the Experience Manager component. Experience Manager is a separate component that can be purchased and implemented with Endeca. Companies can attain very detailed levels of personalization using Experience Manager, but they need a dedicated individual or team in place to support this level of customization. The team must have a deep understanding of the target market segment – who the customers are, their motivations, behaviors, what they might be looking for, and what types of campaigns might draw them in. Armed with this intelligence, a trained business user has granular control over page layouts and the components returned, based on their own pre-defined set of rules . The business user can apply changes and manipulate configurations in Experience Manager as needed to deliver a personalized experience and targeted marketing for website visitors.
BloomReach Commerce Search and Categories is a cloud-based solution that powers search, navigation, and personalization on ecommerce sites (desktop, mobile and apps). It provides customers with personalized search results, categories, and recommendations. An additional feature is BloomReach’s ability to create a connection across all digital devices a non logged-in customer might use throughout a search experience. This is accomplished by applying a series of machine learning algorithms, which gather data and assemble the results in a meaningful set that is ranked based on relevance to the customer’s purchase intent. BloomReach’s Web Relevance Engine ranks results by applying metrics to potentially millions of products. The Engine then personalizes the results and rankings by learning from every interaction a customer has online and offline.
This technology allows a more hands-off approach, since much of the process of knowing your audience and tailoring your search platform to meet their needs is automated. When manual adjustments need to be made, BloomReach provides business users with a dashboard from which users can make changes. This technology requires a few weeks for the initial machine-learning to take place. Once the learning phase has been completed, much of the upkeep is automated.
How search relevancy is handled with BloomReach
Search relevancy tuning is primarily automated by BloomReach’s Web Relevance Engine. The Web Relevance Engine is constantly learning in the background – picking up on new trends, data, and actively listening to the world both on and off-site. This enables it to continually tune its results and improve how those results are being returned to customers. A business user has full transparency into how the search relevancy is determined and has control to make exceptions when needed.
How personalization is handled with BloomReach
The Web Relevance Engine works with natural language processing to achieve 1:1 personalization. Natural language processing refers to the ability of a computer program to understand human speech as it is spoken. Cookies – tracking code that is added to the ecommerce site – are used to examine customers’ cross-device behavior and build up unique customer profiles. This includes browsing patterns, social media interactions, previous online and offline purchase history, searches, and personal affinities. Offline information such as customer relationship management and loyalty data that are collected from in-store, point-of-sale or contact center sources can be included to enhance the audience understanding. All this information is then coupled with contextual information about time of day and location to help serve up the best results for each customer.
Side by side comparison
A detailed side-by-side comparison of Endeca vs. BloomReach is provided below, which is based on criteria borrowed from RealDecoy’s E-commerce Search Platform Analysis for Retailers blog post.
ABILITY TO DRIVE CONVERSIONS
Levers your own data to drive relevancy
The degree to which the search platform is capable of levering data attributes to drive relevant search results
Business user control
The extent to which the search platform provides business users with the control they need to make updates and deliver timely, engaging campaigns
Ability to cater to unique personas
The extent to which the search platform enables business users to cater content to unique personas
Speed of catalog refresh
The speed with which the index can be rebuilt or updated
Data/index management features
The extent to which the search platform allows for incremental indexing and the auto-pruning of data without manual intervention
The extent to which the search platform offers comprehensive linguistic functionality, natural language processing, stop words, spelling correction, thesaurus, etc.
The degree to which the search platform offers business users the ability to monitor customer search behavior
Ease of search tuning
The ease with which the search platform can be tuned for optimal customer experience
Manual: Technical specialists can manipulate the relevancy strategy being used, indicate what fields are searchable, and lever other data points not in the index. Business users have a relevancy tool they can use to experiment with different relevancy strategies using the data that has been ingested.
Gives business users ultimate control to drive a detailed and targeted search experience, but this requires expert guidance and training at first.
Manual: Need a team or individual with a deep understanding of customers to define groups.
Full catalog refreshes – required for updates to the spelling correction dictionary or changes to the faceted navigation – can take considerable time depending on the size of the catalog, or when there is a complex ingestion process required. Updates to selected products or attributes are possible, but require manual programming and are limited in their capabilities.
Indexing is usually a scheduled job. Business users
control the data in its source, and the scheduled indexing will pull in updates
from source data when run.
Some manual intervention is required (by IT and business users) for phrases, thesaurus, stop words, and stemming. Natural language processing is not available.
Provides general reporting on top search terms, conversion rates, A/B testing, popular records, sorting options used, spell correction and alternate suggestions, business rules activated, dimension searches. Reporting requires initial setup by IT.
Manual effort with multiple steps.
Bloomreach commerce search and categories
Automates the relevancy strategy for customers to lever all the attributes. All attributes are searchable by default – exceptions can be made as needed.
Gives business users out-of-the-box control over product ranking grids, banners, redirects, and thesaurus. Testing and target capabilities are on the roadmap for early 2017.
Product and content ranking within search results and category pages are personalized automatically. Options for manual targeting and testing is on the roadmap.
Fully scalable platform that accepts product catalog and other updates as needed – typically every hour. For example, a company can provide product feed updates for millions of products or thousands of attributes multiple times daily.
Ability to ingest scheduled feed updates such as new
products, taxonomy changes, remove products, image changes that are specific to
a date/time range.
Fully automated with optional manual input. Understands natural language queries, long-tail search queries, synonyms, and concepts.
Provides general analytics on search behavior and Key Performance Indicators (i.e. bounce rates, conversion rates and revenue). Also exposes no-revenue queries and offers diagnostic tools to deep dive into a particular search terms to understand customer behavior and engagement within products.
Search improves itself based on machine learning. Business User has control to make exceptions if needed.
ABILITY TO MEET BUSINESS USER NEEDS
Total cost of ownership
A combination of license fee and the cost to operate, maintain and customize the search platform
The extent to which the platform empowers business users to control search functionality and extend personalization
The degree to which a search platform can be configured to business needs, and the level of effort involved to make changes
The extent to which a variety of data sources can be integrated, and the platform’s ability to overlay these data sources
The ease with which the search platform can be managed and indexed across multiple languages, brand websites and/or product catalogs to display the most contextually relevant content
The degree to which established lines of support are available
Hardware footprint - The extent to which a search platform is linearly scalable without extra costs
Per-query licensing (new model) that requires a specialized, trained team to customize the search platform. Additional employee costs to support and maintain platform.
Experience Manager handles personalization and is a separate component that needs to be purchased. Templates allow business users to dynamically create pages with components, and organize them under various conditions (granular control). IT can create additional templates as needed to provide more custom cartridges to build the pages. The tool empowers the business to define category pages and build rule-based product recommendations and spotlights on any section of the website.
Catalogue + non-catalog content is available. Business users have granular control over the elements on pages and can define sets of rules on when those elements will appear.
Manual: one-time set up by IT for process that gathers data and joins it together. Raw data can be imported from anywhere.
Manual: IT must build separate indexes for each language, and/or each site (depending on business goals for multi-site).
Requires trained business users for Experience Manager, in-house IT trained on Endeca, and may occasionally need to outsource for specific implementations. 24/7 support is available.
On-premise. Requires an infrastructure team to scale (an extra cost).
Bloomreach commerce search and categories
Usage-based licensing model, with no on-premise hardware, engineers, or IT cost.
Business users are armed with a dashboard which empowers them to override any automated personalization in search and category pages given their unique understanding of their business and trends. Product recommendations are also offered. Business users can work with BloomReach to show product recommendations such as “more like this” or “just for you” or "dynamic category" across the site.
Catalog + non-catalog content is available. Dashboard controls are provided for product grid curation in search results and category pages, based on various product attributes.
Manual: A one-time manual integration effort is required then automated using standardized feed processes and data formats.
BloomReach builds the new indexes.
24/7 support is available. Premium services available for elevated levels of support.
How to decide?
There are two key points that large midmarket or enterprise retailers must consider prior to selecting a search platform technology: control and team structure.
How much control does the business need over the search experience?
There is a spectrum between having complete manual control over the search experience and having the experience be automated by technology. Each technology that has been discussed here lies at a different point on that spectrum. Endeca lies close to the complete manual control side whereas BloomReach lies about three-quarters of the way to the automation side. There may be times when a business user wants control and other times when it wants the machine to take over (and many states in-between).
If the retailer needs to support both catalog and non-catalog content, and wants to control every aspect of the search experience with a detailed level of granularity, then Endeca may be a good choice.
Business users can create dynamic landing pages with elements that trigger under certain conditions. These elements can be set by time, keyword search, customer segment, and navigation selection. This allows retailers to employ more targeted cross-selling opportunities and catch customers in real time, to hit them with specific content to help boost average order values at checkout.
If the retailer needs to support both catalog and non-catalog content, and wants automation to do the heavy lifting with a business user in control, then BloomReach Commerce Search may be a good choice.
Retailers can provide customers with personalized search results and category pages that are ranked based on their relevance to a customer’s need. The path to purchase is facilitated since the technology levers machine learning and natural language processing at every step of the customer journey. On top of all of the automation, business users can create, curate and manage static pages, and add or edit dynamic category facets or dynamic badges to content.
What is the expertise and makeup of the team in charge?
Business users of these search platforms typically include merchandisers and marketers. These individuals are seldom trained to tune search relevancy for keyword-driven platforms, or configure personas, business rules, and page layouts for personalization. It takes time to not only train and develop these specific skills, but also to execute.
If the retailer has a business user or team dedicated to learning the admin platform, tools, and search analytics, then Endeca is a reliable choice.
The Experience Manager interface is complex, but it can be very powerful in the hands of a trained team or individual who can take full advantage of its functionality. This functionality allows business users to exercise granular control over page layout, search and navigation, merchandising, personalization, promotional content, and rich media, to name a few.
If the retailer does not want to devote full-time resources to manually manage the search experience on a full-time basis, then BloomReach Commerce Search is a reliable choice.
The dashboard interface is intuitive for the non-technical business user. This means that, when needed, the business user can easily configure changes to the setup. Combine that with the power of machine-learning and natural language processing, and the retailer is left with a self-sufficient search platform.
The biggest consideration for top retailers isn’t if they’ll improve site search, but how.
Whether retailers are looking to improve search for the first time or are thinking about a wholesale change to a new search platform, they must determine if they have the capacity to manually control the search experience, or if they want to rely on technology to ensure search relevancy and personalization.
Ultimately, it comes down to where businesses lie on the spectrum of control for the search experience, and whether or not they have the resources in place to support that need. Either way, the best place to start is by examining their business goals. They must assess how (or if) these goals have changed since the last site search implementation.
At RealDecoy, we have the implementation experience and insight you need to make an informed decision about which search platform is best for your B2B or B2C business. We also understand what it will take to implement a solution, whatever it may be, so your ecommerce site is set up to drive ROI. Contact us to learn more.