Year after year, the e-commerce sector reports exponential levels of growth that has left other industries in the dust. But, in an ever-changing and competitive landscape, it’s important that businesses remain responsive to emerging trends to ensure they don’t fall short.
Global online sales are predicted to hit $3.3 trillion in 2019, and many businesses are constantly trying out new ways to boost their online conversions, cater better to their customers, and enhance the online shopping experience they offer. Site-search has proven itself as an integral means of doing just this – but how is it evolving for 2019?
We’ve filtered through the noise of ‘trending topics’, and identified five major e-commerce site-search trends for 2019:
1. Customer Experience is key
An increasing number of e-retailers are recognising that ‘customer experience’ is no longer just an optional extra that sweetens the buying-cycle, but a key competitive differentiator. Consumers are more connected to the internet than ever, and many are savvy to the range of devices, platforms, and channels available to them. So, expectations of the online shopping experience are now held to fiercely high standards.
In fact, 80% of customers find their experience with a company is equally as important as its products and services – highlighting the value of an intuitive and well-designed website for attracting and retaining customer attention.
For site-search, heightened personalisation helps improve the customer journey. Site-search technology can gather data on individual user behaviour through current or previous search queries, and AI can automatically tailor the buying experience to personalise every journey.
For example, a smart e-commerce search AI can recognise customer preferences automatically and infer purchase intent, instantly creating bespoke search results that help visitors quickly find what they’re looking for. Considering 48% of consumers will spend more when their experience is personalised, it’s vital that e-retailers embrace a site-search function that maintains personalisation from search to purchase.
Being ‘customer obsessed’ by displaying more relevant results and understanding the context of individual customer sessions will not only improve online UX but also preserve customer loyalty and retention for the future.
2. The move to Mobile
Mobile commerce is no dying trend, and the total global mobile share of e-commerce is forecasted to reach 62% in 2019, so it's essential e-retailers prepare for the rising number of people who complete online transactions away from a traditional desktop.
In 2019, 4 in 10 transactions will involve a mobile device – so businesses who don’t employ a platform-agnostic search function are missing out on key conversions and customer retention. Poor search interface and design that doesn’t cater to a mobile audience will contribute to user frustration, missed conversions, and website bounce rates.
If users are accessing your website on a mobile, your business should already know they’re looking for a more convenient and clearer path to purchase. In theory, product search on mobile devices should be as straightforward as it is on a desktop.
To achieve this, ensure your website is built as a progressive web app (PWA) that blurs the lines between websites, and mobile applications. Put simply, a PWA is a website designed to look and feel like an application, without your users needing to download one. This means your website is able to fit any form, be it a desktop, mobile, or tablet device. If your solution is able to provide the same experience universally, you can create a uniformed channel experience for your customers and cater to the growing the mobile generation.
Along with both UX/UI design and website speed, site-search is a critical component towards ensuring streamlined customer interaction on mobile. Users cannot effectively search your website on mobile if they don’t have the tools to do so. If you don't think your website is mobile-friendly yet, it's not too late!
3. Augmented Reality for Interactive Product Visualisation
Seeing a product in person can often be more persuasive than images online. E-commerce product photography and descriptions have come a long way since the emergence of online marketplaces, yet images of products can only go so far – and sometimes there's no real match for seeing the product in real life.
Interactive product visualisation has emerged as a growing trend that removes customer hesitation from the buying cycle. AR allows e-commerce customers to interact with products as if they were standing directly in front of them, creating a 360-degree shopping experience and enabling customers to flip, turn, or zoom in to products. It's likely we've all wondered whether a product will be the right material in real life, or if the same colour is shown online. When consumers get to view high-quality visualisations of products, and view products in 3D detail with augmented reality, they're more likely to complete a purchase. Moreover, interactive product visualisation will be key to providing great customer experience in 2019.
4. AI & Machine Learning
This year, it will be commonplace for e-commerce websites to utilise the benefits of AI and machine learning in their site-search tool. Even smaller e-tailers are embracing the technology in an effort to maximise their customer conversions, as smarter search solutions are now more attainable (and affordable!) than ever.
Machine learning offers a fully automated approach to merchandising, allowing businesses to dynamically show the most relevant products first – dependent on in-session intent, popularity, or previous customer behaviour data. Thus, the site-search tool delivers a more relevant experience to visitors and streamlines their experience while removing the manual work from the back-end of business merchandising.
Additionally, AI technology learns from customer behaviour, so businesses can automatically build a search tool that retrieves more accurate results over time. This is crucial for the e-commerce sector, as customer search can inform about the most popular items, trending products, or frequent search queries. If AI technology can teach your search to match a popular search query with a product, customers will be able to find exactly what they're looking for.
Put simply, businesses that embrace smarter site search tools equipped with machine learning algorithms are more likely to convert, as their customers experience a smoother search experience.
5. The Rise of Chatbots
Chatbots are a form of software that is able to hold a human-like conversion and assist website visitor's with their queries or search. They have been developed out of the increasing need for websites to recognise conversational search terms, as consumers are increasingly inclined to use informal queries to search a website.
Additionally, they offer a 'personal touch' for visitors, and improve customer interactions and engagement by handling questions or complaints promptly. If a visitor wants to source information quickly they can simply open the chatbox and type their query, awaiting instant results. It's no wonder the e-commerce industry is quick to embrace this trend, so how you cater to it?
Businesses should choose a search tool that responds to complex queries, understands colloquial ‘natural search language’, and recognises longer search terms. Most chatbot search queries won't be exact product terms or singular words, and instead, will likely be in the form of questions or informal language. Chatbots that only respond to unnatural or awkward language will be a major turn-off for visitors trying to search for products or information via a chatbot, so select machine learning technology that can cater to natural search language.
Prepare for the Future of Site-Search
The coming year will welcome new advancements of e-commerce site-search, so it's important to ensure your site-search is up-to-scratch. Studies show that by 2021, businesses who optimise their website to cater to new trends will increase their conversion rate by 30%, so by remaining customer-centric, focusing on each individual user's journey, and by understanding the contextual meaning behind search terms, e-commerce retailers can prepare for the future of search in 2019 and beyond.