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3 Things E-commerce CTOs Need to Understand About Search-as-a-Service

May 3 2018

The future of e-commerce looks bright, with global retail e-commerce sales predicted to reach $4.5 Trillion by 2021. Central to future success is retailers’ ability to adapt to and match changing consumer behaviours and expectations, which means harnessing powerful new developments in site-search and machine learning.

Consequently, many retailers have begun looking to third-party Search as a Service (SaaS) to provide them with the technology they need. But for a CTO tasked with choosing the best option for their business it can be a tricky task: there’s a wealth of options out there, each seemingly promising you a search revolution. So, what should be the key considerations you factor into any decision?

1.What Your Goal is and How SaaS Helps

This may seem a slightly obvious place to begin, but the truth is we live in an age where most online retailers spend a lot of time looking anxiously over their shoulders at what Amazon is doing. The result: a race to implement the latest trend - be that personalisation, natural language processing (NLP) or automated optimisation- with little thought given to what the best solution is for their customers.

So, the first thing on the list of any e-commerce CTO considering SaaS should be a good old-fashioned target. What are you hoping to achieve by enlisting the help of a SaaS provider?

Sure, your overarching goal is always going to be providing an experience that delights your shoppers, but it’s worth digging a little deeper. For example, is your primary target improving conversion rates through search relevancy and linguistic functionality like NLP? Or, is your focus on business user needs, such as giving staff more control over personalisation and search tuning?

How you answer these questions will establish what you actually need from your SaaS and inform which vendor or software is best suited to your e-commerce business.

Design a frictionless shopping experience for your users. Download our 'Search  and Navigation UX Design Guide'.

2.Understanding the Subtle Differences Between Providers is Crucial

Not all SaaS vendors were created equal. Indeed, the variance in focus from provider to provider can be vast. For instance, some are NLP specialists whereas others are geared towards hyper-personalisation and relevancy.

Likewise, the methods used by each provider vary vastly. More basic offerings will only use very simple search technology such as text-matching and weighting, and they will naturally deliver ‘fuzzy’ results which more or less match intent but lack precision. On the other hand, more advanced site-search that utilises advanced machine learning techniques, such as language modelling and neural networking, on top of these basic building blocks will deliver the closest thing we currently have to true search intent.

Both instances will be sold as SaaS, but the difference between them in terms of performance is likely to be vast. So, it’s vital CTOs have at least a rudimentary knowledge of search technology and the levels of machine learning available on today’s market, as illustrated below:


3.Support is Central to Success

It often gets overlooked, but one of the key benefits of SaaS is that you benefit from ongoing support and development.

Functional enhancements and upgrades are continually applied to third-party solutions, giving retailers access to a service that keeps getting better. Whether it’s performance improvements, developments in cognitive ability, enhanced analytics and reporting, or better merchandising options, SaaS companies are often at the forefront of developments in machine learning and can work on and deliver innovation few retailers could manage in-house.

This continuous cycle of improvement and the release of new features is something that can keep your site sharp, fresh and better able to meet the ever-growing expectations of your customers.

Similarly, people often take support for software products as a given but with something as complex and important as site-search it really is vital. A good software supplier will continue to provide you with support and advice long after the project launch date - whether that’s help analysing your reporting, optimising your merchandising or helping train business users.

The Power of Search

Advances in site-search are changing the way we all shop online, as machine learning becomes smarter in adapting to customer needs so too must e-commerce retailers. Click here to find out more about whether your organisation could benefit from trusting SaaS experts with your site's search.

Download our 'Site Search and Navigation UX Design Guide'


Machine Learning
eCommerce Strategy
Search & Navigation

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