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“The first law of ecommerce is that if customers cannot
find the product, they cannot buy it either.”
Jakob Nielsen


1. Offer multiple ways to find products

Five common methods of finding products on a website or app

1. Search
2. Browse
3. Lists
4. Content, such as posts, tiles, banners, and pop ups
5. Past orders

As a general guide:
Searching is quicker than browsing
Relevant lists will be quicker for finding multiple products than doing individual searches per product.

The effectiveness of each method can vary depending on the usage scenario. Don’t dismiss the less popular methods entirely as they can still be the best fit for certain customers, under certain scenarios.


Factors that can influence the best method of finding products:

Return purchase frequency:
if your customers behaviour has a high return purchase frequency then Past Orders is a great way for them to find products.
Quantity of products purchased: if your customers behaviour is to purchase multiple items per order then Relevant Lists will be quicker for finding multiple products than doing individual searches per product.
Product complexity: products like tickets may require the customer to provide information such as dates, locations, and ages to return the best results.


2. Make sure your product finding tools work together

As an example, a customer may start by typing ‘laptop’ into the search bar, then switch to browsing the ‘laptop’ category by clicking on the breadcrumb, then filter by the product specifics such as screen size, CPU etc, then add the product to a watchlist in order to find it easily at a later time.


3. Identify the most efficient and effective methods for finding products and make these the most discoverable and accessible

Pick a range of representative scenarios and measure the time that it takes to get the result, or count the touches / clicks / keystrokes required, using each method.

Make the most efficient and effective methods for finding products the most discoverable and accessible.

Note: adding more elements to your page will lower the discoverability of the existing elements.


4. Have great search

7 Elements of great search functionality:

1. Auto suggest that ranks the suggestions by greatest relevance to the customer, not alphabetic or other less useful sort orders. For example, if the most common purchases that start with ch are cheese, chicken and chocolate then those should be your first 3 suggestions, not an alphabetic list like chardonnay, champagne and chamomile tea.

2. Auto suggest functionality that provides generic product term suggestions eg typing blue c suggests the term blue cheese’
specific product suggestions  e.g. typingblue c suggests the product Castello Creamy Blue Cheese 150g‘.
or both – Dan Murphy's is an example of a site that offers both generic product term suggestions and specific product suggestions.

3. An algorithm that searches the category names, as well as the product names. I’ve seen liquor sites where searching the word ‘wine‘ produces no results because the product names do not include the word ‘wine‘. Searching category names can also help rank results by the most relevant. As an example, finding the term cheese multiple times in the hierarchy can identify cheese products e.g. cheese > soft cheese > blue cheese > Castello creamy blue cheese 150g versus products that only contain cheese where the term ‘cheese‘ is not in the hierarchy e.g. bakery > scones > cheese scones 6 pack.

4. Account for spelling mistakes, typos, plurals etc, sometimes known as fuzzy matching. As an example, searching any of the terms banana’, ‘bananas‘ and ‘bnana‘ should find any products with the word banana in the description.

5. Account for alternate search terms e.g. zuchinni & courgette or tinned & canned etc

6. Account for superseded products. This involves adding data that links removed products to products that fit as alternatives. See tip 14.

7. Provide optimal UI. If the search functionality is likely to be used for repeat searches then validate that it is quick and easy for customers to do repeat searches. This can be factors like:

  • Pressing ‘enter’ should execute a search as this is easier to execute from the keyboard, rather than having to switch to the mouse to click a search button.
  • The search box should always show rather than having to be clicked to be displayed.
  • It should be easy to return focus to the search box for the next search, this should account for the scenario of altering the existing search term, as well as the scenario of entering an entirely new search term.
  • Account for mobile keyboards filling screen space and remove these at appropriate times.
5. Check your zero search results

Zero search results are the terms that your customers searched for that produced no results.

*** Zero search results data is HIGHLY valuable information ***

Zero search results let you identify:

– Gaps in your product range
– Gaps in your search functionality

Identify and fix these gaps asap

6. Identify when searches require more information than a search term

Some searches require more information than a search term to give the best search results.

For example, booking.com has a form to request the number of people, their ages and the date range of the booking.

When using a form approach, pay attention to pre-populating each of the the fields to the most common settings in order to make the customer experience of completing the form as quick and easy as possible.


7. Have great browse functionality

Customers should be able to browse your products by category and you should be able to easily manage how your products are categorised.

Your ecommerce system should allow you to:

  • easily add and remove categories. This is useful for scenarios such as seasonal events.
  • show the same product in multiple categories to help customers can find what they are looking for, in the place that they decide to look.
  • have flexible attributes and filtering variances per category. For example when buying eggs, the egg size, the quantity in the pack, the farming method e.g. free range are all helpful, however these attributes are not required in other sub-categories.
8. Offer Lists

Lists are great when your customer behaviour involves ordering multiple products.

Lists also work well when paired with content tiles and banners to highlight groups of products that do not fit together under existing groupings like categories.

Lists can be:

  • customer generated e.g. wish lists
  • generated by your business
  • generated by customers and shared to other customers

The ability for customers to create a new list, or add to an existing list should be accessible as a feature when viewing products.

If lists could be large, then consider having the ability to search, and sort and filter in the same way that’s available when browsing products or viewing search results.


10. Have promotional content that links to products or lists

Promotional tiles and banners are great ways to highlight products and offers.


11. Be able to add to basket when viewing products from past orders

If your customers have high return purchase frequencies then past orders is a great way to help them find the products that they are looking for.

Where possible include your customers offline order information by linking transactions through loyalty programmes or digital receipts.


12. Offer great filtering and sorting for search results, browsing, and lists

Searching on a term will often produce many results. For example, search for the word ‘cheese’ on a grocery website can be a great way to narrow down a range of 20,000 products to around 300.

The quality of the sorting and filtering functionality then determines how easily your customers can then narrow down the list of 300 products to the product that they are looking for.

Common sorting options
  • Relevance – influenced by the customers behaviour or similar customers behaviour
  • Popularity – influenced by all customers eg most purchased by all customers
  • Price
  • New products
  • CUP (Comparative Unit Price) – price per unit of measure
Common filtering options
  • Category/Sub Category
  • Brand
  • Price
  • Size
  • Colour

13. Show a product – even when it’s not available

Displaying unavailable products gives an answer to the customers question of ‘Where is it?‘.

Showing a product that’s not available then let’s you suggest a substitute product, or advise the customer when the unavailable product will be available again.

The alternative of not showing the product gives the customer zero information, which may result in them continuing to look for it, as they may believe that the issue stems from them not using the correct search term, or from them browsing in the wrong location, looking in the wrong list etc


14. Link replacement products to discontinued products

Discontinued products should have a link to a replacement product. This is particularly useful in environments where return purchases of products are common.

It’s a lose / lose scenario when a product disappears from a customers ordering list, resulting in 1) the customer not ordering a product that they needed and 2) a ‘lost sale’ for the website. Supersession functionality that shows, or suggests, a replacement product avoids these issues.


15. Determine what the most important product information is that needs to be shown on a product listing view

A product listing view is how a product is shown in search results, or when browsing categories. The product can have a lot of information and only some of that can be shown on a list product view.

You should rank your product information and from the most important to least important eg
1) Image
2) Add to basket / Qty in basket
3) Product Description
4) Price

This can then determine the information to include on the product listing view and the order of elements shown on the products details page.

Note , there pros and cons of showing less information on a product listing view:

Pro – less information lets you show more products on the screen making it easier to compare products without the need to scroll.

Con – not showing the information the customer is looking for can stop the ability to compare, and can make the customer have to do an additional click to find the information that they are looking for.


16. Product Details

Customers click through from product listings to view the full product details so that they can get more information on the product.

Make sure you show as much information as possible on your product detail page and order the information from the most important element to the least important element.


17. Breadcrumbs

Make sure your product details page has breadcrumbs to allow customers to navigate up the category tree to view similar products.


18. Algorithmic generated lists such as ‘People who bought also bought’. ‘Have you forgotten?’ or ‘Favourites’.

Algorithmic generated lists are a great way to help people find products.

A good algorithm will account for last purchased dates, return purchase frequencies and similar customer behaviour.

19. Upselling and Cross-Selling

Relevance is a key factor in a great upselling and cross-selling experience.

Placement in the journey can also influence the effectiveness as to how well your promotion converts.

Placing your upselling and cross-selling immediately prior to checkout works well, as you can use the products in the order to calculate the most relevant suggestions based on:

  • complimentary products that are not in the order
  • products that have been repeat purchased by the customer that are missing from the basket in the current order. A good algorithm will account for last purchased dates and return purchase frequencies.
  • products bought by other customers with similar orders that are missing from the basket in the current order.

Placing your upselling and cross-selling immediately prior to checkout may allow for your customer to engage more, as they are no longer focused on their primary objective of ordering what they initially wanted.

Be aware that some people love upselling and cross-selling in their digital shopping experience, while others do not. You can please them both by:

  • providing UI/UX that allows for a quick exit option for people that don’t like it.
  • provides options of extended upselling and cross selling for the people that do like it.

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About Norm Achibald, Senior Trader Product Lead.

In 2009, I was extremely fortunate to accelerate my e-commerce learning with Olympic Software and Countdown Supermarkets, who at that time had been leading the market for over a decade.

From 2009 to 2017 we continued to grow the market with the introduction of new features like mobile sites, and 'click and collect' - it's hard to believe now that these once didn't exist.

In 2017 I moved to Bidfood and continued to learn more on the nuances of food and drink e-commerce for B2B.

Ange and I live in Morningside, and when I'm not obsessing on how 👪people, 📐design, and 🚀technology can combine to improve e-commerce, then you'll likely find me acting as an uber-like driving service for teenage children, and working out how to best fit a game of squash, and at least one hot yoga session, into my weekly schedule.

My role at Olympic is the Product Owner for an extremely empowering enterprise ecommerce platform known as Trader.

Working with Trader in FMCG, I was able to attain growth milestones of $1m per week, followed by $1m per day, and upwards again from there.

The quality of the platform gave me the confidence to continually set, and achieve, higher growth targets for sales, margin and customer satisfaction.

The platform was adopted by the Australian retail giants of Woolworths and Dan Murphys in 2013 and 2016 where it achieved even greater scale and sales volume levels.

Trader offers:

🛒 A basket that supports complex, targeted, pricing and discounting.

🎯 A content management system that provides powerful options for personalised and targeted communication.

📈 A team that quickly understands your business with a focus on maximising your e-commerce opportunities.

🔗 A pragmatic approach to integrating with internal and 3rd party systems to provide a complete e-commerce ecosystem covering essential areas such as customer service, order fulfilment, delivery, email marketing, loyalty, rewards, SEO, SEM, analytics and business insights.

Once established, Trader often meets new business requests without the need for additional development, making an extremely empowering enterprise ecommerce platform.




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