Sam Russell, Customer Success Consultant at Avolin, looks at the accelerating importance of search in e-commerce, and highlights how intelligent search tools are critical to ensuring retailers optimize conversion rates and drive their revenues  

Without a shadow of a doubt, 2020 is the year where ecommerce has reigned. Against a backdrop of year-on-year growth in online retailing, 2020 expedited that growth as many turned to online shopping out of necessity rather than choice. In fact, according to the latest Online Retailing Index from IMRG and Capgemini, overall online retail sales in June increased 34% year on year, a 12 year high since 2008.  Studies suggest that the transition to e-commerce has been accelerated by up to 5 years in 2020 due to the current global situation.

And with restrictions ongoing across the world, whether through local lockdowns, the need to shield, or the fact that many are simply more comfortable avoiding the high street right now, online channels continue to report solid growth. This of course has to be good news for online retailers.

Or does it?

Beware complacency

Not necessarily. There is a risk that this kind of opportunistic growth as a direct result of the pandemic might be interpreted as strategic growth. That is, growth which is achieved on the back of investment in digital transformation for example, or the creation of business models designed to drive conversion rates and increase revenue.   

Overstating this kind of opportunistic growth is of course potentially risky, as while demand for some categories, such as grocery, is forecasted to have shifted online for good, it seems likely that others might slow down once physical stores can embrace a restriction-free future. Any complacency around these predictions could equate to lost revenue further down the line.  

Forward-thinking retailers are recognizing these factors and are investing in areas which stand to boost sales in the long term, irrespective of this year’s online performance.   

The search is on

The ability to deliver the right communication or product to the right person at the right time, in the right place, is of course the holy grail of any marketing strategy. And nowhere is this process more magnified, and indeed crucial, than in e-commerce search and discovery. 

E-commerce search capability has become, in just a few years, one of the most influential factors in driving online sales.  Consumers expect to search a retail website, for a “grey velvet sofa” or “orange neon sports shoes” and be presented with an array of products for closer inspection and ultimately, selection. Testament to the power of search is that the ability to deliver relevant content to consumers at the right time can improve conversion by as much as 50%, and increase revenue by as much as 30%.

However, many retailers continue to rely on the generic search capabilities contained within their existing ecommerce platforms. While these can absolutely convert some consumers, they typically don’t extend far enough in maximizing potential sales. To put it bluntly, they’re inadequate in keeping pace with consumer expectations in 2020/21, and fail to reflect the importance of search as a tool in driving revenue.  

Introducing intelligent search

The latest breed of dedicated, intelligent search platforms address this shortfall by pinpointing the specific products that a customer is most likely to buy at a very specific point in time. Using machine learning (ML) and customer data, they dynamically re-rank products to present the results most likely to convert a browser into a customer.

The search and discovery journey begins before a customer even clicks on your website. Using a patented algorithm to place the most relevant results first by using a combination of both shopper’s behaviour as well as the data provided, the best search tools will also further optimize SEO to draw browsers in from their preferred search engine, thus creating a seamless purchasing journey.

Compounding this further, they provide reports which enhance profitability through allowing users to focus on the areas which can drive the most value, helping to manage resources more effectively and optimize performance.

Crucially these platforms can work on a standalone basis, or on top of a retailer’s existing e-commerce system. Through providing the images, URLs, indexing and promotions most likely to match a consumer’s search criteria, they not only boost sales, but foster loyalty. If a consumer can locate and purchase the exact item they are searching for in a fast and efficient manner, it creates a superior shopping experience for the customer and drives greater revenue for the retailer.

Clicks versus bricks

Looking ahead, the only real certainty is uncertainty. Retailers cannot afford to gamble on potential sales and therefore must strike the right balance between investment in clicks versus bricks.  

Investing in the very best, most intelligent search tools to optimize conversion rates and build market share, regardless of the pandemic restrictions in place, is a no brainer in engaging the modern consumer, and matching products with consumer demand at precisely the right time. Those retailers which recognize the value of intelligent search, and invest in this powerful capability will inevitably put themselves in the best position to become the brand leaders of tomorrow.

For more information on how SLI can help your e-commerce business, contact us at