Designing for Customer’s Search Behavior, or How to Optimize the Store for Each of 6 Patterns of Information Seeking
“The internet is not a source of information it is a source of disinformation.” ― said Craig Ferguson ( at least, I googled this quote and one of the websites states he said. Who knows if this is a reliable source, or disinformation again, a clear proof of this statement). Well when it comes to mass media controlled by the high and mighties, or all those social networks full of trolling, Craig may be right. But eCommerce belongs to another genre. The merchants are taking every opportunity to satisfy the information hunger of their shoppers: ads, popups, newsletters, detailed product images and descriptions, live chats and phone support ― and providing the visitor finds what he is looking for, he will most probably convert into buyer.
Given the merchant knows, how the customers are seeking for information, he can setup and configure his store accordingly: to serve the right information on the right page and at the right moment.
Tony Russell-Rose& Stephann Makri proposed a model of information behavior based on the needs of users of consumer-oriented websites and search applications, you can find it in their work “Designing for Consumer Search Behavior”. It was taken as a basis for this post, which is some kind of interpretation with practical advice on how to apply these discoveries in your X-Cart based store.
The authors speak about three lower-level “lookup” modes (locate, verify, monitor), three “learn” modes (compare, comprehend, explore) and three higher-level “investigate” modes (analyze, evaluate, synthesize). The first 6 of them can have practical value for an online retailer.
To describe this mode in the terms of Russell-Rose& Makri, it’s “Investigating the data set for the purpose of knowledge discovery”, “opportunistic search”. In simple words, the user in this mode is browsing the website nonchalantly. To increase the chances of finding something interesting for such “lazy” customers, the merchant may use such features as “bestsellers”, “related products”, “customers also bought” – they’re available out of the box so you can start improving the store without additional expenses!
Pop-up grabs attention of every customer for a few seconds. Hence it has far more impact than communication via sidebars or banners, given you’re not too annoying. With “Popup anywhere” you can display promotional messages, special offers and other pop-ups with different content.
But the merchant can act outside his store, too: many of your potential customers tend to hang out on Facebook and Twitter. Regular engaging your audience with nice posts, pics and videos can play into your hands, especially if your target audience age is 15-35. It doesn’t mean you should have fan page in every social network, you may focus on a single one ― where most of your target audience can be found – and beat the bag out of it. For a detailed report about social networks audience, please refer to this article.
Lots of X-Cart merchants use f-Commerce Go to interact with customers. Morgan Battisti from “Trading Phrases” has even shared his success story: 33,048 likes and the figure keeps growing. “Facebook fans and their engagement is a major factor in SEO for our site, along with adding social credibility, referrals, and more.”
And since I mentioned Facebook, I cannot help but share the news from Mailchimp: now you can upload your list into FB , then run ads that target those same customers. I guess it may be a good tool to connect with people who might have unsubscribed but are still interested in your brand ― haven’t checked it yet, though, have you?
This is the step when the customer has opened the store and tries to find the particular item either using the site search feature or with the help of website navigation menu.
So how to give the customer what he is looking for?
You should facilitate the items findability as the customer in this mode is looking for a specific (most probably, known) item. So your site search is to return the most relevant results. But which one is relevant if the customer has made a typo in the item name, or if he is not sure how the brand spells? That’s why you may consider improving the search to include spell-checking and auto-correction mechanism.
Fortunately, such a module is not far to seek for X-Cart users — “Cloud search” supports both features. It also offers suggestions on the fly, as the customer types, and refreshes the results to show more relevant ones with each new letter. Another addon, which comes with X-Cart 5.3 by default, is called CloudFilters. Built on top of Cloud Search, it extends the proven effectiveness of the app and makes fitering easier than ever. I’d also like to highlight that Cloud Search returns the results ranked by their relevance — it takes into account the form of the word where the search phrase is found, the position of the words in the document body, and other factors. Moreover, it searches not only by products, but also by categories, brands, static pages. And if only anything relevant exists in your store, the customer will find it.
Todd Messineo, who was among the most active users of this tool, comments on utilizing it in his store, budgetgolf.com :”This is a one of the best x-cart add ons we have ever purchased. Our conversions are up 9.02% over last years same month.” Another active user of the service (he asked not to mention the URL of the store to avoid irrelevant traffic and test orders) gives an even more impressing figure: “Since we’ve implemented CloudSearch we have seen an increase in sales of over 25%“
For a customer who has some idea of what he is looking for (price range, color, size, category, brand or some other custom criterion), but who doesn’t know exact name of the product, “Refine filters” will be a perfect tool of navigation and search. It’s not for nothing this extension is one of the most popular ones 😉 .
On this step your visitor has already found the product and needs to verify that it meets some specific criteria.
It means that you should make sure that your product description is informative enough – and remember that Google likes unique text, so don’t hurry to copy-n-paste what your manufacturer provided. Highlight the most significant features in headlines or in bold, add detailed images and image zoom, attach downloadable manuals and specifications.
One of my favorite apparel stores has a custom feature which I like very much: the thumbnails on the product list page (category, manufacturer, search results page) rotate once the visitor hovers his mouse over it, thus one can take a look at both front and back view and take preliminary decision whether he likes it or not, without necessity to load a separate page.
Also, the customer can see available sizes right away – they appear as image rotates.
One more piece of advice: often, instead of just listing the features (abracadabra like “Ingredients: Baking Soda, Citric Acid, Sweet Almond Oil, Goat Milk Whey, Essential or Fragrance Oil.”) you should describe how the product can be used, what problems of your visitors it solves (I can’t help but imagine a relaxing atmosphere, reading this description, written with love to the product and customer: “Adding bath fizzy to your tub fills the bath water with wonderful scents and leaves your skin smoother and softer”, and I’m already looking for a Credit Card in my wallet – to purchase this Bath Fizzy from one of X-Cart based stores).
Adding videos to product description may be a good addendum, too.
Some customers have already found the product they need, but they postpone the purchase. Say, the item is simply out of stock ,or the potential buyer is patiently waiting till this product is on sale.
In this case you both can win if you have ‘back in stock’ or ‘price is down’ notifications, if the hot items are listed in a special “On Sale” category or if the customer is alerted once the item is low stock: he may want to hurry if there are only several items left. When the store is especially crowded, you may stir up the interest to a particular items with the help of “Don’t miss out” feature.
And just like the customer is monitoring the products, store administrator, in his turn, might be interested in monitoring his customers, in particular – abandoned carts. On one hand, it can give a hint whether the checkout workflow is convenient enough for customers. On the other hand, it allows to recover potentially lost sales if something goes wrong. That’s why there are more and more stores which use abandoned carts reminders.
Okay, you have found the item, and generally you like it. Yet, you’re not 100% sure if this is exactly what you need: is it really better than others? What differentiates it from the others alike? You want to compare it with other products in the store, side by side, step by step. And the more specifications alike products have (display, battery life, capacity, cameras, dimensions and weight etc) the more important is to give your customers a convenient comparison tool, which is available out of the box in X-Cart Platinum.
Tony Russell-Rose& Stephann Makri describe it as “generating independent insight by interpreting patterns within a data set”. Actually this is the step when your customer forms his own opinion about this product. This is a mental process you can’t intrude in, but several reviews of the customers who purchased this product before and rated it as ‘excellent’ may become a very fertile ground for positive attitude.
To sum up
Increasing the conversions is an ongoing task, requiring knowledge and patience. Experimenting is one of the easiest ways to find out if this or that change works or not. X-Cart team has developed a number of potential improvements, I have introduced them to you, now it’s your turn to move, and we encourage you to try – and even offer a limited Special offer!
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X-Cart copywriter, PR and Marketing Manager, I came to eCommerce company in 2009 as a customer support assistant, went on to work as a Project manager in the Custom Development team to discover the needs of e-merchants and deliver the projects that meet their needs. This experience gave me a deep understanding of how things work from both a developer's side and a user's point of view, and it really helps in creating articles with love and care. Apart from eCommerce, I am a loving wife and mother, yogi and aerial hoop performer.