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Search & Product Discovery | 12 min read

How to Excel at eCommerce Product Discovery: Key Insights and Strategies

June 28, 2023

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If you shop online, at some point, you’ve run into this scenario: you’re browsing social media on your phone when a product ad catches your eye. You click on the ad for more information. You’ve been wanting a product like this, so you head to Google to look up some customer reviews and compare pricing. When you find a discount coupon for your favorite store, you navigate back to their site, do a quick search using the search bar, add the item to your cart and start the checkout process, picking between next-day delivery and curbside pickup.

If you shop online, at some point, you’ve run into this scenario:

It’s a dizzying process – and even more remarkable that all of these steps can happen from your couch, on your phone.

But what is it called?

This whole process is what online retailers refer to as Product Discovery.

What is eCommerce Product Discovery?

Product discovery refers to the various methods shoppers use to find the products they want to purchase. Unlike a physical store, where customers are limited to in-store displays, end caps, and perusing racks or aisles, product discovery in eCommerce is a bit more complex.

With the rise of omnichannel shopping experiences, product discovery can span across multiple platforms and devices. Tools such as search and navigation filters, recommendations carousels, and personalization algorithms can be used to show customers the products they want, or that match their preferences and past purchasing behavior.

Ultimately, the goal of product discovery is to help customers find the products they want, when they want them. (And potentially other products they would like, that they might not have considered.)

Why does product discovery matter?

Customers can't purchase products they can't find.

Customers can't purchase products they can't find. This has been true since the advent of retail - but has been exacerbated with the rise of eCommerce and the shift to online and digital shopping experiences. In the busy online world, it has become harder to grab potential customers' attention as they are constantly bombarded with ads.

Product discovery matters because it touches every point of the customer journey. It's how customers find their ideal products - not just popular products or the ones retailers want to sell them via social media or other digital channels. Product discovery is deeply intertwined with the customer experience, and as such the quality of your product discovery experience has direct impacts on your customer experience and your bottom line.

Poor Product Discovery Experiences Can:
  • Decrease conversion rates
  • Decrease customer satisfaction
  • Erode customer loyalty
  • Increase search abandonment
  • Lower metrics like AOV and revenue per search
Positive Product Discovery Experiences Can:
  • Boost customer loyalty and experience
  • Increase revenue and sales
  • Boost key metrics like AOV, conversion rate, and revenue per sale
  • Deliver relevant search results
  • Improve search relevance

Why do retailers still struggle with product discovery?

Despite knowing its importance, facilitating product discovery is one of the hardest challenges facing retailers today.

There are 4 main factors contributing to this struggle:

1. The Overall eCommerce Landscape

Today's eCommerce landscape is hyper-competitive. Between high shipping fees, rising customer acquisition costs, constant sales and promotions, and declining customer loyalty, eCommerce retailers are fighting for customer dollars at the cost of profit margins and stability.

While the overall US online retail market surpassed $1 trillion in 2022, recent quarters have seen penetration stagnate. Indicating that, while customers may be spending more, eCommerce is not attracting as many new customers for retailers to sell to.

This makes retaining loyal customers even more important, as returning customers spend more and cost less than new customers. However, customer loyalty is decreasing; an astonishing 33% of consumers have switched brands in response to recent economic pressures, forcing retailers to fight for every sale - even from once-loyal online shoppers.

In such a competitive landscape, product discovery is hugely important. For customers, finding the products they want, when they want them, is the cornerstone of the digital shopping experience. And in this landscape, a great product discovery experience helps customers do exactly that, increasing average order values, customer satisfaction, and even customer loyalty.

2. Customer Journeys & Expectations Have Shifted

As social media has exploded, brands have been gifted with more ways to reach customers, and customers have been given more ways to shop. However, this has fragmented customer journeys.

What was once a relatively straightforward, linear purchase path is now an unpredictable, choose-your-own-adventure-esque experience that customers can tailor to their individual preferences. And their preferences, overwhelmingly, point towards convenience.

A whopping 97% of customers have backed out of a purchase because it was inconvenient in some way. That includes the 51% of consumers who have completely abandoned their cart and taken their sale to a competitor after a single bad search experience!

When that preference for convenience combines with a fragmented customer journey that spans multiple platforms, omnichannel experiences become the norm. As such, having a cohesive product discovery strategy becomes more important than ever before. When your product discovery experience is cohesive, your customers can smoothly move from one customer touchpoint to the next, always being delivered exactly what they're looking for.

3. Legacy Technology Holds Retailers Back

From monolithic tech-stacks to keyword-based legacy search, legacy technology hinders the product discovery experience. Outdated solutions like these often lack the agility modern retailers need to keep up in the marketplace, and they struggle to produce the most relevant and personalized shopping experiences. Unfortunately, many retailers still rely on legacy technology in key areas -- especially search.

Legacy search engines rely on keyword-based technology, with a little bit of AI layered over top to handle complex and long-tail search terms. However, even with thousands of search rules, these engines struggle to deliver relevant search results and ultimately contribute to poor search experiences.

AI-first search is critical to helping retailers create the best customer experience and product discovery process possible. The next-generation search engine that powers GroupBy's AI-first search and product discovery platform understands true user intent and can return relevant results for the broadest of queries, which greatly enhances the customer experience.

4. Bad Quality Data Hampers eCommerce Search

There's an old adage in search: garbage in, garbage out. This refers to the data sets search engines use to deliver search results. If you put bad data into a search engine, you'll get bad search results out, no matter how good the AI is.

For a product to pop up when a customer enters it into the search bar, your catalog data must be normalized, complete and fully attributed. That means standardizing and normalizing everything from product details to product tags to maximize product findability. And to create a truly intuitive customer experience, product categories and product attributes should be aligned with how your prospective customers talk about and search for your products.For this reason, having accurate product attribution data is a must, and not having it is negatively impacting most eCommerce retailers.

However, there are a number of reasons retailers struggle to get good product data. Between compiling data from different platforms and data sources to carrying products from different manufacturers, who provide different product details, getting a complete, normalized data set for your entire product catalog can be difficult.

This is why GroupBy's Enrich product is a core part of our platform. By normalizing, cleansing and attributing your product data, Enrich solves the bad data problem at the source, and helps generate relevant and accurate search results.

Important Elements of Product Discovery

So with the above challenges in mind, what do retailers need to have in place to create a stellar product discovery experience for their customers?

Search

Search is the first and most important part of product discovery. It's the most common way customers find products, with 69% of customers turning to it. And since customers who search for products have the highest purchasing intent, it's one of the most vital elements of the product discovery journey.

Poor search also harms sales – 53% of consumers will completely abandon their cart and head to a competitor if they cannot find even a single product. This makes search relevance more important than ever before.

Because customers have become accustomed to Google-quality search, a great eCommerce site search experience includes the same features as the worlds' most famous search engine. Namely, type-ahead results (also called predictive search), relevant search query suggestions, autocorrect searches, and a full understanding of user intent, so that relevant results can be returned for even the broadest of queries.

Navigation & Filtering

When a customer types a query into the search bar looking for a dress and thousands of results are returned they need some way to filter them down. Enter navigation and filtering.

Navigation and filtering are essential elements of product discovery. Because who wants to scroll through thousands of results to find what they're looking for? By creating intuitive, easy to use navigation and filters, customers can more easily personalize their search results and narrow down products to the ones they want to see. The richer and more relevant the filtering options are, the better the customer experience.

Recommendations

Product recommendations are vital not just for retailers but for customers as well. Known for their ability to cross-sell and upsell relevant products, recommendations also serve a vital role in product discovery.

By suggesting relevant similar products to what customers have viewed before, or products customers with similar shopping patterns have purchased, recommendations help boost AOV, cart size, conversion rates, and more.

They can also decrease user frustration by suggesting alternative products on “no results found” pages. These pages are often responsible for the relationship to bounce rate.

Product recommendations are vital not just for retailers but for customers as well. Known for their ability to cross-sell and upsell relevant products, recommendations also serve a vital role in product discovery.

By suggesting relevant similar products to what customers have viewed before, or products customers with similar shopping behaviors have purchased, recommendations help boost AOV, cart size, conversion rates, and more.

They can also decrease user frustration by suggesting alternative products on “no results found” pages. These pages are often responsible for search abandonment and negative experiences.

Omnichannel Support

Since customer journeys have become fragmented across many channels, your eCommerce product discovery systems need to span and enable those channels as well.

Omnichannel support doesn’t just mean putting personalized product recommendations on multiple channels, or retargeting customers on social media. Omnichannel also involves connecting your product inventory to your website, so customers can see real-time stock availability. They want to know which store they should go to to pick up their order. They also want to know what delivery options are available – is there next-day or same-day delivery? Do they have to head out to the store for curbside pick up? Can they buy-online-pay-in-store?

Product discovery happens on many different platforms and so seamless omnichannel experiences are a key element in the product discovery process.

Data Pipeline & Data Enrichment

From in-store point-of-sale data to online customer data to product catalog data to loyalty data to store inventory – digital retailers have mountains of data. Unfortunately, this data cannot support the customer journey and enhance the buying experience when it’s siloed and disconnected.

A good data pipeline connects all of these disparate data sources and readies them for ingestion into the backend. Once transformed and standardized, their data can be cleaned up and readied for use, sending personalized recommendations and offers to clients.

One of the biggest challenges facing retailers for years has been the “garbage in, garbage out” problem, whereby poor quality product data negatively affects product search, leading to low search relevancy and increase search abandonment. Standardizing your product data and adding the correct attributes (aka the ones your target audience will be searching for) is key to improving search relevancy and thus product discovery.

How to Improve Your eCommerce Product Discovery Experience

Given all the elements involved in product discovery, what are the top items you can tackle right now that will improve your online customer experience and improve product findability?

Make Sure Your Product Pages are Informative

According to research from Forrester, detailed product pages greatly inform purchasing decisions. Given that customers cannot see or feel products online before purchasing, this makes sense. Customers need detailed product descriptions to help them select the right products.

Making sure your product pages are detailed and informative is the first, easiest step most retailers can take to improve their product discovery process.

Clean Up Your Product Data

As talked about above, “garbage in, garbage out” has long been a problem in the eCommerce space. Cleaning up your product data is one of the fastest, easiest and most cost-effective ways to improve your product discovery process.

When your products are properly attributed and curated, search relevance increases and hidden inventory (often missed because of mismatches between what customers are searching and how the product is described) can be uncovered.

There are several ways to go about cleaning up your product data, however GroupBy’s Enrich product uses a global taxonomy to catalog and attribute products at scale. This allows you to curate collections, improve filtering, and reduce shopper frustration.

Understand User Intent

The most important element of search – and thus, product discovery – is understanding user intent. A customer can mean several things when they enter a query into your site’s search bar. It is vital that your search be capable of understanding what your customer means when they type in a query like “date night dress” – are they looking for a dress with dates on it? A “night” pattern? Or the classic LBD (little black dress), suitable for a night out?

Next-generation search engines truly understand user intent and are capable of generating relevant results for both long-tail and broad queries. They understand, for example, that “date night” is a colloquial phrase, used to refer to a kind of event, and are capable of delivering results that are both personalized to a customer’s preferences, and are ordered to maximize revenue.

Leverage Scalable Solutions (Especially AI)

Scalability is everything in eCommerce. If a solution cannot scale with traffic, it presents not just a bottleneck, but a lost opportunity to make sales. For example, most legacy search solutions require extensive manual intervention, with teams of merchandisers creating thousands of rules to ensure the engines deliver relevant products to the customer.

For most major eCommerce sites, these teams can only optimize the top 5% of searches, leaving 95% of the site unoptimized.

However, by leveraging scalable solutions – specifically Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning models – you can both improve the product discovery experience and reduce the strain on your merchandising team. An AI-powered product discovery solution, like GroupBy’s Product Discovery Platform, powered by Google Cloud Vertex AI Search for Retail, can optimize 100% of site searches, while simultaneously freeing up your merchandising team to work on more strategic initiatives that only humans can handle. This reduces your total cost of ownership, while also boosting revenues as every search on your site is now optimized.

Prioritize Ranking for Revenue

The hidden problem of search and product discovery is not actually relevance but ranking. It is easy to see relevance issues in search results when a customer or employee types in “red plaid shirt” and gets a red plaid sleeping bag in the first row of their results.

Ranking, however, is a much less visible problem. Referring to how a search engine orders its results, ranking is the order results are displayed in. Ranking for revenue means ordering relevant search results in a way that maximizes revenue – while still delivering relevant and personalized items to the customer.

Given how competitive the eCommerce retail landscape is, placing products in revenue-maximizing order presents a huge advantage for retailers as it increases key site metrics like AOV, revenue per search and even CLTV.

In Summary

eCommerce product discovery is the backbone of online retail and a critical element for success in today's market. Focusing on product discovery can make a huge difference in boosting revenue and building customer loyalty – both critical elements for success in today’s competitive eCommerce landscape. Focusing on key elements such as personalization, enrichment, and user experience can help both B2B and B2C retailers and wholesalers stand out from competitors.

Ready to start improving your eCommerce product discovery? GroupBy’s Product Discovery platform is an all-in-one search and product discovery solution that optimizes your eCommerce site for revenue. Powered by Google Cloud Vertex AI Search for Retail – the only next-generation search engine on the market – GroupBy’s platform lowers total cost of ownership and increases key eCommerce site metrics such as clickthrough rate, conversion rate, and average order value.