While once upon a time people were expected to find what they were searching for primarily through a site’s navigation menu, they’re now heading straight for the search box.
Thanks to Google, Amazon and e-Bay, e-commerce sites rely on visitors being ever more comfortable using search to quickly locate exactly what they’re looking for. Factor in massive technological improvements that make using search far more intuitive for customers – and way more useful for e-commerce retailers – and you can see why the search box is likely to be a must-have for your site.
People rarely use search to idly browse your store. They are looking for something specific. An effective site search will help them find it more quickly.
A study of 21 e-commerce sites showed that visitors using search converted at 4.63% versus the websites' average of 2.77% – making it nearly twice as effective.
"When used by shoppers intent on finding the 'right' product, search punches above its weight in terms of sales and conversions."
Graham Charlton, Econsultancy
Customers who enjoy a positive experience of your search feature are likely to spend more time on your site – and are more likely to return.
Analyzing data about what people are searching for can give you huge insights into consumers’ needs and behavior. One clothes retailer noticed people searching for ‘onesies’ on their site (this was back when many people had never heard of the word). The company did some research, began stocking the item, added the keyword, and made over US$90k.
For e-commerce retailers with a single or limited product choices, a search box would be needless clutter. The lack of one doesn’t seem to have hurt US$550m mattress retailer Casper.
Even if your product range is fairly broad, with different sizes, styles and colors, you could potentially survive and thrive without the ubiquitous magnifying glass symbol. But …
If the navigation is good, and we mean really good, it’s often quicker for users to click on a link with a term they recognize than to type the search term and hope they get the phrasing and spelling right. ‘Window shoppers’ will use menus and links to check out what you offer, rather than keying in one product after another.
If you are going to rely on navigation alone, there are a few do-or-die rules:
Want it to run across the top? Fine. Just keep it there on every page. Same style, same colors, same words in the same order. People hate inconsistency.
"Clear menus and links are the foundations upon which all great websites are built."
Gerry McGovern, CMS Wire
What? Be hopelessly vague. Use descriptive (and SEO-friendly) terms such as ‘Auto accessories’ rather than ‘Other’.
Experts have settled on seven as being the maximum number of menu items before people succumb to choice fatigue. Six is better; five might well be the optimum.
Users might land on a sub-menu page on your site from external sources. ‘Breadcrumbs’ will help them orientate themselves.