RichRelevance research unveils consumer attitudes towards in-store technology are markedly similar across America, Britain and Europe, except when it comes to facial recognition.
Shoppers with intent to buy only find what they are looking for half the time. That’s not good enough.
Amazon has one. So does Saks and Michael Kors. The search box—nestled at the top of the home page or hidden in the upper right corner—is an essential feature of retailers across the Internet Retailer 100, 500 and 1000.
Spend a little time with on-site search on a retail site, and you’ll quickly realize that it hasn’t evolved much since Endeca hit the scene in 1999. Seventeen years of search technology and e-commerce advances have not led to meaningful innovation. Instead, shoppers attuned to Pinterest and Pokemon Go are stuck in a digital time warp of unfriendly text boxes and unhelpful results.
Site search is broken, and for retailers, the consequences are worse than you may realize.
The outward problem is what Brigham Young University professor Michael Hendron calls “findability.” Drawing from multiple sources, Hendron notes that 30% of e-commerce visitors use site search, and highly coveted buyers are 90% more likely to use site search. However, buyers only find what they’re looking for in 50% of all site searches.
When did we, as an industry, deem a 50% failure rate acceptable?
Until recently, selling something online was a challenge unto itself. Engineers designed user experiences around technical requirements, not the emotional needs of human beings. “Does this work?” was their driving question. In design, means took a backseat to ends. In the process, the most important questions took a backseat too. How do I feel when I visit this site? What is it like to shop here? How easy is it to find and buy things I want?
Failed design is certainly not unique to search. In Seth Godin’s famous TED Talk, “This is broken,” the marketing guru examines comically poor design and ponders why it happens. His seven reasons have a common denominator: a lack of empathy.
Empathy, by definition, requires understanding. But an overwhelming majority of search boxes don’t understand what people want, as a 2014 study by the Baymard Institute illustrates. Of the 50 top-grossing U.S. e-commerce websites, 70% required you to search in the website’s jargon (“blow dryer” can’t replace “hair dryer”), more than half couldn’t support thematic searches (“beach” or “cold weather”), and although 82% offered auto-suggestions, 36% of the implementations did “more harm than good.”
If you told a retail associate, “Hi, I need a hoodie for cold weather sports,” she wouldn’t say, “Sports? Never heard of them.” Likewise, the associate wouldn’t say, “Well, we only sell ‘hooded sweatshirts.’ Bye.” These situations happen on web and mobile—and nowhere else.
Shoppers today can purchase almost anything online; credit cards and free shipping and returns have removed the magic from online shopping. Therefore, the ease, simplicity, and quality of the process matter more than ever to attract, win and retain customers. The customer experience is the biggest differentiation.
To become unbroken, site search has to strike a balance between technical requirements and empathy. Three principles can help it get there:
1. Prioritize Findability. Many e-commerce sites look at shopper conversion rates without examining the effort it took to make that purchase. Running 32 searches to buy one pair of jeans does not qualify as easy or effective for anyone but the most devoted shopper.
Examine what does and does not happen on your website. Did the buyer search “shoes” and stay on the results page? Did she scroll, browse, or search by category? How many queries did she run? Using what words? What abbreviations, synonyms, and themes lead to dead ends on your website? Identify where findability falls apart and use these insights to better serve your customers.
2. Entice. Make it easy to find goods, but do not rush shoppers to the finale. Inside the actual search results, give people the freedom to explore, play, and learn before they commit to a purchase. The best way to do this: Replace static lists and grids with gorgeous visuals, dynamic movement, and interactivity.
For example, why not let shoppers digitally mix and match bikini tops and bottoms? Why not rearrange images as the search term takes shape to create a dynamic experience that improves on Pinterest and Instagram? Just like in-store visitors, online shoppers need the inspiration, space and guidance to validate their decision. Search can create or kill that space.
3. Personalize. Just as the best associate knows the style of her regular customers, the search bar should know a shopper’s demonstrated preferences. It should be able to suggest search results based on past purchases, searches, browsing patterns, social media activity, and other unique criteria.
To be clear, personalization is different from bare-bones autocomplete or autosuggest, which offer results based on generic parameters. With personalization in play, no two shoppers have an identical search experience.
Site search is fixable and ripe for disruption. Now that engineers have the leeway to think logically and psychologically, e-commerce will find a balance between function and findability. Site search is broken, but not for long.
Although we may not be flying around in rocket ships quite yet, retail today is about as futuristic as anyone could have imagined. It’s hard to envision a world without the 24/7 on-demand access to the endless aisles of ecommerce retail. Personalization has played a huge role in, not only the success of companies like Amazon, but the advancements in ecommerce and retail as a whole. Personalization has enabled retailers to create digital channels that feel as intimate and customer-oriented as a physical store; so over time consumers feel recognized as unique individuals in their shopping journeys.
So what is next in the world of retail personalization?
In an effort to identify the top of mind personalization trends for retailers and brands in 2016, RichRelevance reviewed the requests for proposals (RFPs) from 2015. The retailer RFPs reviewed were largely represented by Internet Retailer’s Top 100 in North America and were retailers who made over $75 billion in aggregated revenue.
Overall, we can see how retailers are uniting the consumer experience. Over the next year, retailers will leverage personalization to bring together all digital and physical channels – to create true omnichannel customer experiences based on three key trends.
Trend 1: Completing Personalization
Retailers today are laser focused on enhancing shopper experiences by using data that is readily available across channels. With every additional touch point and channel, retailers have been granted the gift of data. Until now little has been done to leverage the information retailers have gathered and most of the data has not been synthesized to create an omnichannel experience. To fully implement personalization retailers require a powerful personalization platform to ingest retail data from feeds such as smartphones, tablets, point-of-sale systems, inventory and contact centers. The more data points a retailer collects and integrates, the more seamless a customer experience becomes across channels.
For example, consider how things might be merchandised in stores versus how they’re displayed online – what departments are physically next to each other or across the aisle, and how leveraging purchase data from the store could positively impact online engagement and sales.
Integrating personalization from third party vendors and channels also plays a crucial role in unifying all the elements of the consumer’s physical and digital world. By influencing personalization with geographic, demographic, weather and loyalty components adds an incremental layer of sophistication and relevance.
Trend 2: Enabling Smarter Associates
Tying directly into Trend 1, leads us to the next trend of enabling smarter associates. Today’s retailer wants to enable customer-facing personnel with digital technologies to help associates deliver in real time the highest level of customer service possible. By using a personalization platform that synthesizes human intelligence with artificial intelligence the retail associate can leverage all cross channel customer data, product details and content at every interaction.
One of the biggest challenges in retail is bringing together all shopping channels to deliver a seamless customer experience. An ideal experience has no friction, so that when a consumer walks into a store or calls the contact center, the retail representative already knows everything that customer has looked at, purchased and even returned over the years. To solve this problem of eliminating friction to consumers, retailers are launching a variety of associate-facing applications for use in stores and even contact centers. These applications recall all previous and current customer behaviors/purchases in real time so that an associate can offer a level of customer service that is complementary to the individual’s history, tastes and preferences.
Enabling smarter associates will also play a big role in personalizing contact or call centers. By leveraging different types of clienteling applications, agents will no longer need to spend time determining who a shopper is or what they want. The application will give the agent a real-time view into recent browsing history and purchases across channels to offer a relevant response right from the start.
Trend 3: Launching Tech Savvy Stores
In an effort to combat the strong footprint that the Amazon and other pure play ecommerce retailers have acquired over the last decade, multichannel retailers are bringing technology to the storefront. Retailers are creating unique and innovative shopping experiences to tend to the zero-friction shopping needs of the modern consumer.
A great example of in-store innovation includes the Intelligent Fitting Rooms that leverage RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags to recognize clothing that is brought into the fitting room. By integrating this technology in the fitting room, retailers can help shoppers find alternate sizes and offer intelligent recommendations to suggest alternatives or assist in completing a look.
In summary, this is the year of a unified customer experience placing great focus on cross-channel shoppers, anticipating their needs and catering to them with services that previously didn’t exist. The three trends of completing personalization, enabling smarter associates and launching tech savvy stores create an sophisticated and seamless omnichannel experience for the shopper, and ultimately allow personalization technologies to influence even more of the consumer experience than ever before.
For more 2016 insights visit us at our RelevanceTV YouTube channel.
For a few years now Europe has adopted the Black Friday shopping tradition, with many retailers launching massive sales on what is now the official start to Christmas shopping across the world.
Given the chaos in the shops experienced on Black Friday in 2014, it’ll come as no surprise that many European shoppers chose to do their buying from the comfort of their armchair. What’s more surprising is they increasingly chose to do it via their phone rather than larger devices.
Crunching the numbers across RichRelevance’s global network of retailers, we saw virtually double the number of purchases online over the Black Friday to Cyber Monday weekend in 2015, compared to 2014. View all our facts and figures for this holiday weekend in this infographic.
Black Friday still proved the most popular day of the weekend with four times as many sales on Black Friday compared to Cyber Monday. Across Europe, the peak shopping hour proved to be 10-11am on Black Friday, with €300 million in sales taken during these 60 minutes on the RichRelevance platform.
In stark contrast to 2014 when the majority of research was done on a desktop, 2015 saw nearly half of all research done via mobile and tablet devices. And out of the two it was the smaller device, which saw the most research compared to its larger tablet cousin.
While the majority of purchases were made via desktops, again it was the phone rather than the tablet, which generated the most sales volume. In fact sales volume on tablets halved year on year. Similar insights were highlighted by IBM in ‘Black Friday goes mobile,’ a recent article in Marketing Week.
The jump in popularity of online research and purchases caught some retailers off guard as they struggled to cope with the volume of traffic and transactions made online this year. However, those retailers who go their online offers (and infrastructure) right this year were the big winners. For example Curry’s PC World recorded 5 online orders per second, up 56% on last year and John Lewis recorded its biggest ever single day’s trade which they noted was mainly driven by johnlewis.com*.
A key challenge for retailers with such high demand online is the cost of fulfilment, and potential volume of returns. At least some retailers have learnt the lessons of 2014 when problems arose with missed deliveries due to inability to cope with demand. This year, couriers have been much more organised, working closely with retailers on the volume they are able to take, for example limiting the number of ‘next day delivery’ capacity to avoid disappointing consumers**.
Reviewing EMEA’s results for this Black Friday suggest it is a tradition that is here to stay and one that is certainly tipped to replace the previous Boxing Day sales of old. After the chaos of 2014, retailers this year coped with the increased demand admirably. The clear winner is the consumer who benefits from great deals on Christmas purchases wherever and whenever they choose to shop.
There was a lot of talk this year about Black Friday being “less black” and less of a bellwether for holiday shopping. In addition to REI’s #OptOut campaign, an increasing number of retailers held sales earlier, and have turned Cyber Monday into “Cyber Week” by stretching their sales out longer. So how did it all pan out behind the scenes?
In search of what this meant for our 230+ global customers (and their 550+ sites), my team loaded up on Mountain Dew and music and buckled down for the wild weekend ride—from Thanksgiving on through Cyber Monday. As mentioned in my last blog, my IT Operations team tracks a number of metrics like requests per second, response times, model builds, transfer rates and system loads during this time.
This year saw the implementation of product features and innovations that quickly multiplied our monitoring and measurement needs. To support this, we added in ThousandEyes, which provided deep visibility into all the global networks we touch and into our application delivery. We also built deeper measurements for things like cross-data center latency, global carrier monitoring, API connections, mean response times, records processed, SEO and…oh yeah, we still measure page views. For page views, we generate the now famous RichRelevance Devil’s Horns graph—where the left “horn” in the graph shows Thanksgiving/Black Friday views and the right one shows Cyber Monday.
As in years past, the numbers spoke loud and clear. In the past 6 days, we’ve delivered more than 19 BILLION recommendations (up from our previous record of 17 BILLION), over 533 MILLION page views on Black Friday (up from 400M last year) and managed more than 16,560 peak requests per SECOND on our servers.
Here’s a quick recap of our ride as we scaled the peaks of the Devil’s Horns in 2015.
November 25: T minus 1 to Thanksgiving
- In the two-day ramp up to Black Friday, we saw a 20+% increase in requests per second (from 8200 RPS last year to over 10,000 RPS this week).
- On Monday of Thanksgiving week, we saw over 300M page views, compared to 215M page views last year.
- Traffic doubled and ran higher and longer globally starting in early November. Typically, a normal day would show a defined growth to a peak, short idle, then a drop—think of a hill or small mountain’s shape. Whereas our troughs (nights) now rested around a sustained 4000 requests globally per second, a month ago they were below 2000. Seems like those earlier, longer holiday shopping periods sure are evident online.
November 26: Too stuffed with turkey to hit the “buy” button?
- In all the years my team has been tracking this, we typically we see higher page views on Thanksgiving compared with the rest of the weekend, but more purchases on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
- Today, we hovered around 10,700 to 11,500 RPS all day and ran about 90,000 concurrent sessions worldwide. That RPS is much higher than last year’s plateau and represents a lot of shopping and browsing (which translates into a lot of page views).
- In fact, we beat our previous Thanksgiving page view record by nearly 26% (> 376M page views vs 300M in 2014).
- In spite of a major carrier issue with an Internet backbone provider in Europe (detailed below), I’m proud to say our centers were 100% up during their outage
November 27: Who says EU doesn’t have a Black Friday?
- At 6:44 AM on Black Friday, we hit over 15K RPS, growing to almost 16K RPS an hour later. This was led by our European data centers in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Stockholm, with New York, Chicago and Virginia on the US east coast just below them. No question that it was a big online shopping day in Europe. Just look at the trough of the US night covering Thursday to Friday, it rests around 9000 requests per second all night, with Europe leading with about 3500 of that right into the middle of the US day. EU shoppers were banging their keys until after 11:00 PM GMT. Welcome to Black Friday, Europe!
- Page views for Black Friday were 33% higher than last year at 532M. Our former high was the previous Black Friday, with about 400M page views.
In the graph below, the purple shows current page views in millions up through Thanksgiving. Orange is the projections through the end of the year. Each color below represents the previous 7 years (2008 to current).
November 30: Cyber Monday
- The whole weekend was solid with midday plateaus at a healthy 10-12K RPS. No issues, a Steady Eddie kind of weekend.
- Page views peaked on Friday at 532M. Our high for Cyber Monday was 499M (498,573,302 to be exact).
- We didn’t break our 17,120 RPS peak from last year, hitting just 16,530 RPS, but as noted above, we saw wider higher plateaus without the pointy peaks. This results in more views, more clicks, more recommendations and more value to our merchants. Note that many mobile apps don’t capture a “Page View,” so the large increase in mobile use would imply that the actual page view number is higher. Below is the Devil’s Horn’s for Cyber Monday. Look at how much higher the purple (this year) is to the navy (2014). We hit 499M page views vs 379M for Cyber Monday 2014. That’s more than double 2013’s 215M! It appears that the dynamic has flipped. For 5 years, Cyber Monday had higher page views. The last two years it has been Black Friday. That pretty much tells you that Black Friday is trending out of the malls and into your home and not by small numbers.
- Why was Cyber Monday lower? It all in the overnight numbers. That high Thursday night trough carried the numbers for the day, even with the higher plateau yesterday. The 4500 RPS difference overnight for 4-5 hours makes up the difference easily.
I mentioned above that we greatly expanded our monitoring and ability to see further into our solutions than ever before. Our newest toy, ThousandEyes, captured a regional anomaly on the European public Internet backbone before we even saw it affect our merchant’s traffic. The simple chart below is one of their traffic path visualizations. To the left is some of our global datacenters and the far right is our Frankfurt data center. The central red circle is the public Internet European hub that degraded for about 20 minutes due to high congestion and packet loss. In between, we can investigate and test every hop our traffic takes – sharing it in real time with our customers. This very cool, highly interactive chart provides a whole new layer of transparency to our service.
This new tool is just one example of how we constantly invest in new technology. As we move deeper into SOA this year, we will dive deeper and deeper into our services. Along with DataDog, this tool will be central to measuring our varied metrics.
So to summarize a great holiday shopping season opening weekend, in 6 days we had:
- 2.4B page views
- 3.5B recommendation placement views
- 19.5B recommendations served
At 100% uptime on all 11 of our front-end data centers.
As I mentioned last year I am blessed with a team that is like family to me. These highly skilled people worked tirelessly over our 6th Black Friday weekend together and remained as focused as our first time around. Just the right amount of caution, risk, nervousness and confidence ensured that we were up 100% again, for six years and counting. I am also excited for fantastic new product leadership at RichRelevance, bringing experience and even more thought leadership.
Some things just don’t change. Black Friday 2015 was a great shopping day as expected, but brought whole new twists to existing patterns. Longer periods of browsing, no longer sharp peaks, but long high flat periods with more interaction from EMEA. And now here we are at Cyber Monday +1 and we are already discussing our new scaling, expansion of Service Oriented Architecture, deep BI capabilities and of course more power <manly grunts>! Wash, rinse, repeat… here we go, 2016. We’re ready. Bring it.