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GUEST COMMENT Increasing ROI with improved site search, navigation and merchandising: tuning up for the Christmas rush

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In the UK, with 25% of annual consumer spend taking place in the month of December, the run-up to Christmas is critical for retailers. It’s vital that ecommerce providers are maximising their onsite opportunities. Since 2000, the UK public has spent an estimated £360 billion online: in a sector that’s grown 7,300% over that same period. With the latest estimated annual spend at £76 billion, every ecommerce operator need to make sure that they’re making the most of their market.

Improving conversions and attracting more customers to their websites are the biggest challenges most retailers’ face, in addition to improving logistics and expanding internationally. As such, many retailers plan to address these challenges by upgrading or changing their ecommerce platforms, improving site search functionality and SEO efforts and solidifying their mobile commerce strategies. This can be a highly costly and complex initiative that can require millions in investment and several months or even years to complete. Using a hosted search service could enable retailers to solve some of these problems quickly and simply however.

Whether you’re improving navigation, site service, merchandising, or using multivariate testing to respond to the needs of your customers, there are easy wins and simple solutions that can be implemented well in advance of the 2013 Christmas holiday season and won’t require a massive investment of time and money.

Top tips:

• Improve site search to increase revenues

• Make sure search is fast, easy and, most important, relevant

• Learn from what your consumers want and how they behave

• Make navigation easy – it’s an important as an easy checkout

• Build merchandising into site search, highlighting top-converting or promotional items

• Automate custom landing pages from the search box

• Enable visitors to refine search by the parameters they want and need

• Analyse your data – find out what your customers are actually looking for

Today’s ecommerce sites have a huge advantage over offline retailers, given the relative ease with which they can use technology to improve the customer experience, increase page views, and average spend.

Done right, they can find innovative ways of creating an online experience which rivals up close and personal in-store shopping. It’s possible to improve customer engagement and conversions with innovative ways of optimising search, navigation and merchandising.

There are areas of site search that can be enhanced to enable better website performance and usability – both for traditional and mobile sites – as well as improve SEO, product merchandising and relevancy of results, to deliver a more satisfying and engaging customer experience that results in higher conversions and revenues.

Even better, you don’t have to worry about the pressure of recruiting the right people to implement these changes for you. While IMRG reports increasing concern amongst retailers about finding the new staff with much-needed skills, developing the skill-sets of existing staff, and retaining talent in a highly competitive market, by using a hosted service, you can ensure the support of a team of experts to facilitate change within your existing team. That means little extra work, no additional servers and reliability ongoing.

Site search

One of the first things you can do to boost your customer’s online experience is to ensure that they’re actually finding what they’re looking for. There’s no question that search lies at the heart of successful e-commerce – if your customers can’t find it, they can’t buy it.

At the same time, done right the deployment of effective and relevant site search can drive much of the overall web experience. When site search acts as the front-end of a web site, companies can conduct merchandising and product presentations more efficiently, without the need to involve IT. That can include customising a search page format, including advanced features likes stock availability, add-to-cart, mouse over pop-up images and search suggestions.

At Snow & Rock the implementation of a hosted site service helped the company transform the way visitors searched and shopped on the site. Implementation saw an increase of 33% in visitors using search, with conversion rates up 11% for search users and an increase of 8% in revenues per visit. As Snow & Rock’s David Kohn says, “We’ve worked to deliver an experience that drives visitors to items they seek and additional items they’ll likely be interested in, and the advanced features we’ve put into place on our site have contributed to significant bottom line results.”

Since implementing its own hosted search service, Stanfords , the UK’s leading specialist retailer of maps, travel books, and travel accessories, is seeing a conversion rate for site search users that is 3.5 times the rate for non-site search users after implemention . In addition, per-visit value for visitors who use site search is three times higher than per-visit values for visitors who don’t use search.

Site navigation

An easy site navigation experience is as important as an easy checkout. It’s a simple thing really, butmake things easy for your customers to find, make sure they know where they are within the site, and make sure that every aspect of your site helps them perform a task, rather than hindering them.

Effective navigation is so important as it can help to reduce site abandonment by providing visitors with the most direct route to the desired content through good website usability, while also avoiding navigational ‘dead ends’ or design clutter that impedes their progress. As with well-designed site search, carefully thought-out site navigation shortens the time it takes for visitors to get from a site’s home page to the content or items they desire, and will improve click-throughs and conversions.

By incorporating search refinement options on navigation pages, and leveraging site search results to populate navigation and category pages, it’s possible to transform navigation easily. This has proved effective at the UK’s largest online jewellery retailer, the Diamond Store.

The Diamond Store can now help customers narrow down product options based on price range, gemstone, metal type, band style, occasion, and many more. Visitors who interact with its new search and navigation features represent 30% of the site’s customers; these shoppers convert at twice the rate of visitors who don’t use these features.

“The search is so powerful that we have embedded it into almost every aspect of our site. We have found this to be an ideal way to create a highly user-friendly and engaging site – particularly for something like high-end jewellery, which can be a difficult purchase to make online,” said Gary Ingram, managing director of The Diamond Store. “The many options for filtering results, and the use of search results on category and navigation pages, make it much easier for customers to find items of interest, and the quick view windows and videos incorporated into search results help them get a good look at an item so it’s easier to make a purchase.


Fashion, beauty and accessories retailers have been at the forefront of creating a feature-rich, high-touch shopping experience online – if shoppers can’t get a good sense for a new item, they may well jump to a new site. The way products are displayed and merchandised in site search plays an important role in the online experience, and the innovative approaches fashion brands have taken offer a great example for what other retailers can do on their own sites.

“Ecommerce retailers need tools that allow them to react quickly to opportunities to promote sales and other special offers – and search results are a high-profile place for merchandising,” said Shaun Ryan, CEO of SLI Systems. “With easy tools for adding banners to search results, retailers can influence shoppers at the same time they begin to consider which products they’ll buy.”

Of course effective merchandising is going to help increase sales, but that doesn’t mean pushing things at your customer unnecessarily. Controlling the search results and which promotions are highlighted, can result in ensuring that the top-converting or most relevant offers are displayed.

Not only that, but understanding what your visitors are looking for means an opportunity to create new products. These can range from different sizes of products, to entirely new lines. When the UK’s Lovehoney implemented its outsourced search, it quickly saw higher conversions (four times higher for site search users), lower abandonment and 16% higher revenue per visit.

More importantly perhaps, the analytics features provided meant that the company could see an increasing number of uses of the search times 50 Shades of Gray. This was some time before the book series took off and the company partnered with the author to become the official distributor of an official line of 50 Shades of Gray products. Understanding how its visitors searched opened up an entirely new opportunity for Lovehoney.

Multivariate testing

Another quick win is the use of multivariate testing. This allows retailers to test various designs, headlines, and layouts on the search result pages – and that can mean a direct impact on conversion rates with simple and minor changes to layout and headlines. At Lovehoney, Matt Curry, head of ecommerce says the site used such an approach to determine how many product results to display on a page in response to a search and still generate a high click-through and conversion rate.

Marcus Law is marketing manager EMEA at SLI Systems.

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