It’s not that hard to build a basic ecommerce site search experience. Many companies like Google or Endeca will index your content and power a search box right on your website that visitors can use. Building and using a simple search index can lead to some strange results, however, when out-of-stock products show up or when a customer gets black bicycle pumps rather than high heels. Bad search experiences will end up chasing users away. To increase time on site and conversion rates, savvy ecommerce companies turn to curated search and site experiences.
The word “curated” is a curious word. It’s also a relatively new word when it comes to common usage. First, let’s define it:
cu·rate (from Google)
past tense: curated; past participle: curated
select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition).
“both exhibitions are curated by the museum’s director”
To speak to its newness, we can look at the use of “curated” in books over time:
And the interest in the US for the word “curated” in Google searches:
Interestingly, the most popular topics associated with “curated” have nothing directly to do with ecommerce search:
If you look at the popular topics, they largely talk about product curation. You can find curated product lists from celebrities, carefully curated toy and home décor collections on sites as big as Amazon and as small as The Grommet, and you can even subscribe to receive collections of curated products from services like Quarterly.com. In each of these cases, you have human beings putting together some sort of curated list or collection of products for others to either browse or purchase outright. There are many sites like this on the web, and more crop up every day.
How does this apply to building your ecommerce site search and site experience, however? There are a few different ways to look at curation for your ecommerce site.
Many of the sites cited above have professional curators who put together exclusive collections. You can find sites that have many celebrity curators or single-celebrity sites like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. Others, like AHA, have professional curators who often comprise some of the designers and artisans whose products appear on the site. Large ecommerce companies sometimes also have privately curated collections. These privately curated product collections provide shoppers with the opportunity to find and buy unique or unusual products. Celebrity-curated collections offer the bonus of feeling more connected to the celebrity—another level of fandom.
Other sites, like TrendBrew (an Indix customer) or Canopy allow users to curate products and product collections for other users. Beyond curated social shopping websites like these, however, Pinterest is far and away the most popular social curation site. Pinterest allows users to create visual collections of anything from memes to recipes to products, with product collections becoming more and more popular. Brides and grooms plan weddings, homeowners plan kitchen remodeling, and fashionistas plan wardrobes with simple Pinterest collections. They can then share these collections with others who, with proper links, can then buy these curated products.
If you’re running an ecommerce startup or have a large ecommerce site but not the vast resources of Amazon, you may not be able to spare the resources for building private or social curation. You still may want to shape what customers see on your site. Maybe you have certain categories, brands, or suppliers that you’d prefer to surface in keyword search results, or you might want to always show the black versions of articles of clothing in appropriate search results to conform to your site’s aesthetic.
If you want to shape search results and shopping experience without using private hand curation or building a social curation platform, you can get less custom but equally effective curation by automating it. To automate curation, your site’s developers will need to apply appropriate filtering and weighting to your product records so that they appear in search results and on pages in the order that you prefer.
To go a step further and emulate a more customized curated search experience, you can design curated search landing pages, which can provide custom experiences for shoppers based on the type of results that surface as a result of the user’s search. By using a combination of filtering and custom landing pages, you can increase time on site and conversion by customizing and curating search results appropriately.
Beyond having others (either humans or machines) curate results, one of the most powerful ecommerce tools is allowing users to curate their own search results. To do this, you must enable faceted search, which classifies products along multiple dimensions like size, color, or shipping time. To classify products with these dimensions, you’ll need robust product information that contains well-defined attributes.
By having these classifications for your products, you can show Amazon-like filtering options that your customers will use to narrow down their search results to what they’re looking for. The last benchmark survey in 2014 reported that only 40% of ecommerce websites had faceted search, but technology moves fast enough that many more have implemented it since then.
You can create the most powerful search experience for your customers by blending several of the above methods. The biggest sites, like Amazon, automate curation and build the ability for users to curate their own results with filters and breadcrumbs. Amazon also has in-house experts build curated lists for holiday shopping or for other categories they want to highlight.
Building curated search and site experiences isn’t just reserved for the 800-pound gorillas of the ecommerce world. With the right product information, you can easily build your own curated search and enable faceted search, which will vastly enhance your customers’ experience. And with a better customer experience, they’ll stay on your site and buy more—always good for your bottom line.
Also published on Medium.