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Limitations of Common Search Methods

Having effective site search functionalities in place is a critical element in the online strategy of businesses. They help shoppers find whatever they’re looking for quickly and help businesses increase customer loyalty as well as conversion.

The goal is to provide customers with a user-friendly search experience that supports a frictionless customer journey and improves their overall site-experience. However, standard search methods may be less helpful than expected.

The way people search

The core actions of any information search tasks include:

  • Recognizing a need for information,
  • Accepting the challenge to take action to fulfill the need,
  • Formulating the problem,
  • Expressing the information need in a search system,
  • Examination of the results,
  • Reformulation of the problem and its expression, and
  • Use of the results.

The position of a shopper within the search process, prior experience, knowledge, and interest define the search tools that they will consider useful and that will shape the search process.

Most search tools that can be found in today’s online shops are generally considered useful, however, they do not always reflect the shopper’s position in the search process.


1. The Site search is for experts

The site search is most useful for people who already know almost exactly what they want. It works well if a user knows which combination of some “magic words” will retrieve useful information.

Shoppers who are not able to formulate their problem and have difficulties to express that information need in the search system will not be able to use the site search effectively. In the end, you may be losing potential customers, just because they can’t find what they’re looking for.

[bctt tweet=”70% require searches in the website’s jargon affecting #custexp negatively”]

Smashing Magazine


2. Filters are not flexible

The faceted search is a powerful way of letting shoppers customize the displayed collection of products  – if done well. If not, it can quickly make it hard for shoppers to navigate with a high potential for frustration.

Any faceted search tool has to reflect the visitor’s mental models and has to be optimized for mobile devices – How do shoppers search? Which filters are important? What are meaningful labels? Which filters should be integrated for mobile devices? How many filters make sense on a mobile device?

As filters are not flexible and generally do not adapt to the individual shopper, it’s important to get it right. You will not be able to display more than 10 different filters without severe impacts on the general usability.

Optimizing and finding the right filters that resonate with your target shopper must be a continuous process and how well you master it determines whether shoppers will eventually buy or leave frustrated.

[bctt tweet=”Only 16% of major e-commerce websites offer a reasonably good filtering experience. #custexp”]

Smashing Magazine


Missing Guidance

What aforementioned tools have in common is their inability to guide and advise shoppers. Both are geared towards experienced shoppers who either know what they want or know how to combine certain filters to find the products they are looking for.

If you want to create a shopping experience that is all-inclusive and supports shoppers in different stages of their search process it’s important to integrate need-oriented product search tools that are able to guide shoppers in the search process. Best examples are need-oriented product finders or product advisors that allow users to formulate their problem in non-technical, situational and less product-focused, therefore more intuitive ways.

Need-oriented product advisor at Medion
Need-oriented product advisor at Medion

There’s no doubt that supporting any of these search methods on your site is valuable for shoppers. The key lies in knowing how to combine them to create pleasant search experiences for all shoppers to

  • Improve customer retention and loyalty
  • Create a better customer journey and higher customer satisfaction
  • Increase session duration as customers are not being frustrated and triggered to abort the search process


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