In a recent Forbes article, Retail Strategy and Innovation Consultant Steve Dennis provides a very compelling reason for brick-and-mortar retailers’ recent misfortunes. While he acknowledges the rapid and transformative impact of e-commerce, he believes those who blame e-commerce for the record number of store closings are wrong. Instead, he says:

“A far more profound dynamic is at play, namely what some have termed ‘digital-first retail.’ Digital-first retail is the growing tendency of consumers’ shopping journeys to be influenced by digital channels, regardless of where the ultimate transaction takes place… [and] when it comes to how traditional retailers need to reinvent themselves, several factors related to this phenomenon need to be better understood and, most importantly, acted upon.”

One crucial factor? “It’s a search driven world,” says Dennis.

“Sometimes consumers turn to the web for rather mundane tasks: confirming store hours or looking up the address of a retailer’s location. Other times they are engaged in a more robust discovery process, seeking to find the best item, the best price, or the best overall experience.

Retailers need to position themselves to win these moments that matter – what Google calls micro-moments.”

What’s more, research shows that shoppers that use site search have the highest intent to purchase, significantly outspending those who simply browse. In fact, searchers have 2.7x greater conversion rate, 11% higher average order values, and higher revenue per visit.

To hook these must-win shoppers and clinch the micro-moments in our search-driven world, here are five top best practices:

  1. Use machine learning to power product discovery for big results.

It’s critical that retailers support shoppers conducting searches with the most relevant product results to quickly help them discover, buy, and move on. Search powered by machine learning “learns” from visitors’ behavior and activity to deliver busy shoppers the most relevant results quickly, resulting in a search function that becomes more intuitive and relevant the more it’s used.

  1. Ensure searchers can find what they’re looking for with just one word.

Research shows more and more shoppers choose to conduct site searches with just a single word. In fact, a recent study of more than 1.5 billion search queries found more than half of searchers only use one word, and over 80% of site searches used two words or less. Machine learning is driving more personalized shopping experiences where just one word should be all a shopper needs to find what he’s looking for. Combining machine learning with real-time contextual personalization can identify what that particular person means in one word and deliver what they are most likely to buy in that moment.

  1. Implement a search system containing rich autocomplete with graphics.

By combining intelligent phrase suggestions and product images into its autocomplete feature, Zachy’s Wine and Liquor increased conversion rate by 10x for shoppers using site search, and average order values by 2x for those same shoppers. Using a robust site search system with autocomplete has been recognized as one of the key steps in generating higher revenue.

This is especially true today with more people shopping from mobile devices. Shoppers on mobile devices expect a powerful autocomplete function so that they can easily go directly to the products they want with the convenience of not having to type out complete product names or descriptions on a small screen keyboard. Accommodating this will result in higher revenue per visit and greater customer retention.

  1. Arm your e-commerce site (and site search) with creative content.

Your online presence needs to be about much more than the products you sell. A website or mobile site should be an educational resource for consumers, offering unique photos, videos, tools, blog posts, reviews and more, which amplify your brand and convince shoppers to buy. 100M+ hours of “how to” content have been watched on YouTube so far this year! To make finding valuable content seamless, include it in search results — somewhere below best-selling products or in a tab above the fold.

  1. Marry site search results with paid and organic traffic sources.

If you know how people search on your site, this gives you insights into very likely search terms that people are using in search engines as well. Marry this super high-intent search behavior with your product catalog to automatically create customized landing pages that are very attractive to search engines. For retailers with tens of thousands of SKUs that could never all be manually optimized for SEO, this strategy can be very powerful, as it generates a lot of valuable traffic off of long-tail keywords. According to Jerome’s Furniture, in 2017 alone, capturing these high-converting long-tail SEO targets in an automated way has already brought in thousands of clicks and tens of thousands of dollars in sales.

To learn more about winning the search-driven micro-moments that matter, check out our e-book The Quick Guide to Better Site Search.

Bob Angus, Strategic E-commerce Consultant

Bob is a strategic e-commerce consultant and regular contributor to SLI Systems’ webinars and product marketing. He has helped merchants grow sales in his marketing roles at PayPal, Symantec, and Commission Junction. Bob has been a contributing editor at Practical Ecommerce and provides free marketing templates on his website.