May 09, 2007
Case Study

How Eretailer Tripled Conversions With Internal Search Changes

SUMMARY: Internal search functionality may not be very sexy to marketers, but it is to consumers. According to MarketingSherpa data, consumers turn to a site's search box before any other navigation tool, yet 52% of marketers rated their internal search as a 'D' or an 'F.'

See how one eretailer tripled conversions originating from their onsite search with a simple upgrade to their system. Includes five strategies, intriguing results and creative samples.
“We were anything but satisfied with the way our search box performed on our site,” explains Shirley Tan, CEO, American Bridal. “If you typed in two words, it would offer anything with those two words. We know that when people come to our site, they have an agenda -- they have something they want to cross off their list. We were not giving them the ability to complete their agenda in a timely manner.”

It seems that Tan had been dealing with the search tool that came packaged with her ecommerce platform for too long, and she couldn’t take it any longer. Add in the fact that American Bridal rarely gets repeat customers (main demo: brides-to-be ages 20 to 35 looking for wedding favors), and it’s easy to understand the desperate need of taking advantage of every visit.

With a new internal search tool, Tan and her team had four goals:

o Put together a system that would deliver search results that people were looking for on the first page 90% of the time.
o Increase the percentage of people clicking on the first five search choices. This would show them if they were using users’ time properly.
o See overall site revenue increase over the previous month.
o Reduce the time that phone/email reps spent roaming the website while trying to help waiting customers.

They brought in a consultant and a vendor (see hotlinks below) -- with the latter agreeing to let them customize and test-drive the system for a month. They selected a time period that wasn’t too busy so the comparison would be fair. Keeping their four goals in mind, Tan and her team focused on five strategies:

-> Strategy #1. Results pages

First, they set up the system so the search results pages would be viewed on a different server. Unbeknownst to the customers, they would leave the main site while shopping on the results page. When they chose something for purchase, the item was transferred back to the main site's shopping cart -- even if the customer continued shopping on the results page.

In their back-end analytics, the items being purchased from those search results pages were placed in a separate bucket from, say, products being purchased in the best-sellers category pages. They did this so the non-technical marketing staff members could see how well the search box was performing.

-> Strategy #2. Advanced search

Within the results page framework (again, running on a separate server), they installed an advanced search feature. Viewers could select from both price and category drill-down menus before searching for particular terms. Each menu contained a dozen or so selections.

Popular search categories also appeared on the page, letting users click to see the most-viewed products arranged alphabetically. The top 21 product categories are also listed below the other features –- underscoring the strategy of making the most-popular items as accessible as possible.

-> Strategy #3. Programming rules

Next, they programmed the search tool to record past site searches and clickthroughs and to use that information and deliver results based on popularity. Code was also included to allow misspellings to be interpreted, so users wouldn’t see zero results.

“And, we wanted to see the search tool bring up not only the item people were looking for, but also other [up-sell] products that made sense,” Tan says.

-> Strategy #4. Integrate search and analytics

They then integrated the search tool with their analytics software, which let them watch cross-site behavior. They did this so they could assess deficiencies before tweaking the rules -- which could occur weekly or daily if needed.

“We had to find out how the search [meshed] with the rest of the site,” she says. “We also had to integrate the system with the platform that we had in place already.”

-> Strategy #5. CRM and merchandising

Finally, they gave the sales reps a tutorial on locating products quickly when customers called or emailed. Tan also instructed her team how to use the search results and analytics to adjust merchandising on the fly.

“We were used to having to manually move the most popular items up and down [on the site] according to the back-end data we were seeing. With the new set-up, we wanted a lot of that done automatically. We wanted to save our staff members as much time and mental energy as possible.”
First of all, the upgraded internal search tool is converting like crazy. As an individual site feature, it has consistently produced three times more checkouts than its predecessor. And extensive analysis indicates that customers are finding the desired product on the first page 96% of the time.

“Where the old system often placed the most-popular items as low as 18th or worse, the [upgrade] puts it at the top where it belongs,” Tan says. “The greatest thing is that it allows users to find what they are looking for easier.”

The percentage of people clicking on the first five search results has also improved. Users clicking on those first few results have increased 10 percentage points, from 60% to 70%, and average order sizes have increased across the site by “double digits.” While the average user viewed four pages last year, they now click on seven or eight pages.

“The numbers continue to improve over time,” Tan says. “We’re quite happy that we found a better tool to provide our visitors with much improved search results.”

In addition, revenue per visitor using the search box has increased $13.52 on average, up from the $4.99 per visit they saw in the month before the upgrade. This means that if 100 people use the search -- no matter how many purchase -- they see $1,352 in sales.

“We got an immediate boost in performance and revenue,” Tan says. “From the standpoint of search alone, it more than doubled from what we were seeing before. We didn’t split-test the two search tools, but the [new search tool’s] performance has been so consistently better that we don’t feel as though we really need to.”

They also managed to increase efficiency in their call center: the length of calls has decreased an average of 1.5 minutes. “We are getting to more people on the phone and answering more email,” Tan says.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from American Bridal’s

SLI Systems - technology vendor for the hosted search tool:

SEO Research Labs - consultancy firm who also worked on the upgrade:

Click Tracks - their Web analytics software provider:

American Bridal:

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