Are you ready to hear an uncomfortable truth? Today’s e-commerce search mechanisms are still firmly based on technical concepts developed over 20 years ago. They often leave consumers frustrated and disengaged, leading to churn or missed sales opportunities.
Facets and search bars are static mechanisms that reflect a technical search engine perspective. Recent personalization technology based on machine learning algorithms is trying to bridge the gap that allows e-commerce retailers to predict what consumers want. However, this simply perpetuates the tech-driven user experience that leaves little room for discovery and, at best, only produces incremental gains of a percentage point at a time.
The human is supposed to adapt to the needs of the machine, leaving no room for iteration, fuzzy human thinking, the concept of feedback.
It’s time for e-commerce retailers to embrace change like they did 20 years ago and rethink their approach to how consumers search for products on their websites.
The Problem with a Technology-Driven Search Experience
When technology dominates the search experience, retailers and consumers lose human contact, and it’s to our collective detriment.
For e-commerce retailers to achieve improvement through personalization, they rely on large amounts of site-specific data (third-party/second-party/first-party data) to train machine learning algorithms. This process can take weeks or even months. With stricter data protection legislation and growing consumer reluctance to disclose their personal data, these machine learning algorithms are being starved of required data, reducing their ability to achieve meaningful improvement.
We need to take personalization to its next logical phase, where we move away from its technology-driven underpinnings and become truly consumer-driven. Focusing on understanding rather than assuming consumer intent provides a richer and more engaged experience, which benefits both the consumer and the retailer.
Become truly customer-centric using zero-party data
The good news is that the path to getting to the next phase of eCommerce personalization isn’t as drastic as you might think.
We need to stop viewing e-commerce search through a technology-based, filter-based framework. Instead, we should embrace consumer engagement and interactivity and give consumers mechanisms that encourage them to specify what they want as they progress through their journey. So simple, yet so revolutionary!
This provides very valuable information about their commercial intent, which allows for fine-grained personalization using null-party data (“voluntary intent”). Contrast that with trying to guess their intent from third-party, second-party, or even first-party data.
A new approach to solving an old problem
A second important step is that we need to break free from the constraints of 20-year-old technological thinking and adopt a more human approach.
Consumers think in terms of goals, not database queries. Once we have established consumer preferences, it makes sense to order products accordingly, rather than filter them.
This removes their fear of overfiltering and allows products that don’t quite fit to drive additional preference feedback.
A more humanized search and discovery process adapts to the way consumers think. It builds trust, builds loyalty and leads to a win-win for all parties involved.
If we can evolve search technology to take an interactive, iterative, engaged, and communicative approach, e-commerce vendors will be able to better understand consumer intent and deliver a richer, more personalized experience to consumers.
We must remember that people are at the heart of it all. Yes, we have the technology to provide various algorithms to facilitate online shopping experiences, but without the interaction, engagement and human touch, we simply cannot begin to guess what the consumer really wants. It’s time to engage them and find out.
Twan Vollebregt is the CEO and Founder of Crossan e-commerce personalization technology provider.