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Start Your 2023 E-commerce Transformation with Search and Discovery

We live in troubled times. From layoffs across tech companies, to slowing consumer spending, to bank runs, it’s difficult to predict what the world will look like tomorrow and to decide what to prioritize.

For e-commerce companies trying to decide how to operate in the current economy, there are a lot of question marks. Do you cut all new initiatives to conserve capital? Do you continue your digital transformation as planned? Do you hunker down and wait for the next crazy punch life will throw at us (I’m personally betting on bear attacks)?

Since none of us know what tomorrow will look like, good or bad, a safe bet is choosing an initiative that works well in both kinds of economies. Something that has strong, positive ROI in a good economy or a bad one. It’s easier said than done, but e-commerce companies that are large enough to have significant clickstream data should consider on-site product discovery and search as the next step in their digital transformation.

Why Product Discovery?

The reason is simple: product discovery is a front-end customer experience investment and about as close as you can get to the money; there is little question that it directly impacts top-line revenue. Rearchitecting your entire e-commerce platform or investing in back-end optimizations make for a harder business case on a tight budget. Not because these aren’t worthwhile investments (they are) or won’t drive business results at all (they will), but simply because it’s more difficult to draw a straight line from investment to ROI in a relatively short time frame.

Product search and discovery is one of the few places in your digital transformation where you can very literally measure the ROI directly.

If you A/B test the metrics that matter to you (like purchases or revenue) by sending some of your users to your current engine and some of them to a new engine you believe may be better, you can measure exactly how much revenue per user each generates and what that investment means for your top and bottom line. If the ROI is big enough — if you can trade $1 for $10+ — that’s a good trade to make, whether the economy is good, bad, or neutral. You don’t have to predict the economic future. You just have to choose the right vendor.

Where to Start

Choosing the right product discovery vendor for your needs isn’t easy, and the evaluation process will require some work, but it’s easier today than it’s ever been because of the number of people who have tried each of the major vendors and the material available online about each. Here are a few suggestions for how to get started:

  • The MACH Alliance recently put together a panel of its member search vendors to speak about how they see the future and what’s important to them.
  • More importantly, e-commerce is a small world. For just about any pair of vendors, you’ll be able to find someone who’s evaluated both, tried both, or even A/B-tested them against each other. Ask the vendors you’re looking at for this information. They should be able to help, and if they can’t or don’t want to, that might be a sign they aren’t the right vendor.

  • Finally, and most importantly, on-site product discovery and search is an area where a vendor should be able to prove to you how their solution will drive an ROI you feel happy with. Ask them for this evidence, and don’t accept anything less. Don’t just let them sell you on marketing materials and a fancy demo. Make them prove it.

The additional nice component to the logic of provable ROI in product discovery is that it’s not just true of search — it’s true of every place on your site, mobile apps, and other channels where you show products. Whether it’s ranking and personalizing a category page, building a product finder that asks users questions to help them discover the right product for them, or showing recommended products to cross-sell and upsell on-site or in emails, the same logic applies.

But you don’t have to do all of them at once. Taking a step towards product discovery optimization is low risk, measurable ROI, and if it works, there are immediate and clear places you can double down, often with the same vendor and with less integration work. And that’s not even mentioning the omnichannel opportunities that are possible if things are going well with your vendor of choice.

The Bottom Line: Top-Line Revenue

None of this is to say that on-site product discovery and search are the only important part of a digital transformation. A best-in-class customer experience requires a best-in-class e-commerce platform, PIM, CMS, and other components that fill out your tech stack of choice. The question in today’s economic environment is simply what to do next and where to prioritize.

There are lots of good choices, but if proving ROI is critical — if you have to show that the initiative more than pays for itself and helps justify the rest of your digital transformation — product discovery and search is one of the very few places where that’s possible.