By now we are all accustomed to “search-as-you-type” or autocomplete search – and today we don’t just expect it from Google, but also while shopping on any reasonably large e-commerce website. And, as you may also have noticed, there’s a considerable difference between generic implementations and what happens when you start typing something into a really clever search bar.
Great When Done Right, Potentially Harmful Otherwise
While virtually all sites that run on a modern e-commerce platform come with some basic variation of autocomplete, the feature does not guarantee an improved user experience. It might speed up the process of typing the query and save the occasional second, but that shouldn’t be the central benefit.
By not behaving the way users expect, autocomplete could even take your customers on detours that harm the search experience and result in drop-offs. Site-search users expect the site to suggest the most relevant results – not unpopulated categories or merely high-margin products.
The Real Benefits of Autocomplete
Autocomplete functionality is at its best is when it really helps the user – and it can help users in more ways than one. When implemented properly, search suggestions can inspire product discovery, narrow down your users’ scope by category, or correct misspellings, for example. Some other key benefits include:
Exploration – Autocomplete could help the customer find alternatives to what they were looking for, or even additional items they hadn’t previously considered. A search for “guitar strings” could also suggest a “guitar string winder” and other related guitar accessories while typing.
Promotions – Most sophisticated site-search engines offer possibilities to manually boost specific products (which often end up being the most profitable ones). This can be a useful feature when handled with care, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into higher profits if it stands in the way between the user and his or her goal.
Reassurance – When the user starts searching for a product and it appears as an autocomplete suggestion, it confirms that the product is available on the site while also providing a useful shortcut to the right page.
In short, helping the user spend less time on typing is a good thing. But as we’ve outlined above, a great autocomplete experience is about much more than that – not least driving additional sales and improving conversion rates.