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Mar 21, 2007
Case Study

How Internal Search Tool Lifts Conversions 16%

SUMMARY: 46% of product marketers say tweaking internal site search is “very effective,” second only to shopping cart design as the most effective site test, according to new data from MarketingSherpa’s 2007 Ecommerce Benchmark Guide.

See how a discount fragrance retailer increased conversion rates with an A-Z search tool that gets seven times more traffic as their regular search box. With the new feature working in tandem with the basic search tool, conversions are up 16.2%.
“We were looking to cut down on the number of moments in the shopping experience where our customers were forced to think,” says David Jeffs, President (part of “It’s our job to do as much thinking for them as possible.”

Although attracts a range of customers, many are first-time visitors who are older women and who may abandon easily if they get frustrated because they can’t find what they’re looking for right away.

“Ultimately, we wanted people clicking instead of typing,” he says. “We needed to address the needs of both sophisticated users and those who have never purchased anything online before.”

Jeffs and his team created an A-Z tool two years ago that let users search by brand name. Since they also sold men’s colognes, they added an identical search tool using the same algorithms/rules. The tools were placed where Web viewers expected to see navigation utilities: above the home-page fold and on the left.

“We didn’t do much testing. We just used common sense,” he says.

The implementation process took less than two weeks. “You don’t need a high-end programmer necessarily -- just someone on your staff who is a Web developer that understands your site and database,” Jeffs says. “While you’ll also need a graphics person, there are really not a whole lot of expenses that go into it once you get it up and running.”

-> Strategy #1. Set search function

After studying user behavior, Jeffs and his team knew their customers -- roughly 80% women -- liked to be in control of the shopping experience rather than get prompted with hard sells. Rather than having the A-Z results pitch top sellers right off the bat, they set it up simply to list the perfumes and colognes alphabetically.

“We think it still works as a cross-sell process, though,” Jeffs explains. “If they click on ‘M’ to find ‘Manifesto,’ we wanted them also to see the Maria Sharapova product that they’ve been looking for and buy that as well.”

Yet, they also wanted the search function to perform as a merchandising tool after the first couple of clicks. That’s why they set up rules where -- as one example -- body lotion products appeared within an onscreen inch or two of the perfumes that were being searched by brand.

-> Strategy #2. Search by designer and scent

In keeping with the directory motif, they added the ability for users to search alphabetically by designer or scent.

“We wanted to stay within the concept but give people who might not remember the brand name the chance to search A-Z by other means,” Jeffs says. “Once again, if they are sitting at their computers idling because they cannot remember the brand name -- we’d rather have them clicking around the site.”

-> Strategy #3. Track recently viewed items

The system also listed the five most recently viewed items below the A-Z feature to help returning customers save time. They made it so that cookies were automatically cleared after a few days.

“It’s convenient for people to retrace the products they’ve been considering,” Jeffs says. “It’s like trail of cookie crumbs they can use to get back to where they’ve been in terms of their train of thought in the last shopping visit.”

-> Strategy #4. Link customer reviews to recommended products

Jeffs also wanted to empower the A-Z tool with more subtle targeting. So, once a shopper placed a product into the shopping cart, they programmed recommendations to appear.

The recommendations included a fragrance by the same designer, a product picture, discount price information and customer-written reviews. They included a handful of links to other products below these images.


After adding the A-Z search function, Jeffs and his team have seen total site conversions increase 5%. “I think it helps people who are not exactly decided on products, but they want to kind of [sift] through the shopping experience with the aid of a search tool.”

In a monthlong sample, 7.15 times as many consumers used the A-Z feature compared to the basic search box. Interestingly, 7.7% of the A-Z users made a purchase, while 10.3% of the basic searchers converted to a sale.

“I don’t think it’s all that surprising that the conversion rate is a little lower for the A-Zs because the volume of people using it is so much higher,” Jeffs says. “The usage [metric] is actually more telling to me because it shows that customers overall prefer it. It shows that they enjoy the process of surfing that way more so than the [basic] search.”

Perhaps most telling, though, was that 16.2% of the people who used both tools bought a fragrance. Other takeaways Jeffs has found:

- Women are reacting to this feature positively.
- Older customers appreciate its self-explanatory nature.

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Comments about this Case Study

Mar 21, 2007 - Toby Cunningham of Sabre Studios says:
Interesting study, but the terminology is a bit misleading. What implemented was browsing technology, not search. Search involves additional difficulties and considerations. The classic distinction is from Yahoo!. Y! initially used linked categories off of their homepage to allow users to click and browse based on subject or interest. Yahoo! partnered with Google for a white label search engine that allowed users to obtain results via a natural language query. So a question is, do 46% of product marketers mean internal site "search" or rather "browsing capability" is second only to shopping cart design in site effectiveness?

Mar 21, 2007 - Tad Clarke of MarketingSherpa says:
Toby, Thanks for the comment. Yes, the A-Z tool might fit more into the navigational/browsing category than internal search proper. Regarding your question: navigation was not defined in the survey. Here's the breakdown: shopping cart design/function, 57%; internal search, 46%; product/feature copy, 43%; multivariate testing of pages; 35% and display tools (3D, zoom), 34%.

Mar 28, 2007 - Alexander Prisant of Prism Ltd. says:
"Ultimately, we wanted people clicking not typing", may be the key to's success. The alternative is to leave your site (and sales volume) entirely at the whim of unaided consumer recall, based on the marketing skills of others (manufacturers)--not you, the site owner. For our clients, the mantra at Prism Ltd. is: the best strategic marketing comes from keeping it "simple" and keeping control.

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