THE BLOG

SAAS Search the Great Leveller

13/03/2014 14:08 GMT | Updated 13/05/2014 10:59 BST

It's a given that one of the best ways to differentiate between brands is through the quality of its customer experience. This is not just the product or service purchased, but the journey and experience associated with that purchase. The cost of acquiring customers versus continued customer loyalty makes this a central aspect of building and successfully developing an online business. In today's world, the customer must want to return.

Another increasing trend however, especially for smaller retailers hoping to compete with global giants like Amazon, is how to ensure that a brand can stay at the cutting edge of digital development. With e-commerce increasingly a multichannel industry, retail brands of all sizes need to use the most effective tools and services available to allow them to maintain a competitive technological edge. This need is behind the growing appeal of software as a service (SAAS) applications, which allows brands of every size to deploy technology across its data without expensive and time consuming site and system re-engineering.

Nowhere do these two aspects of the digital economy meet more effectively than in search. While the traditional view of customer service may have been to ensure the most effective design, navigation and purchase process, search now provides a powerful tool to support the customer journey. Customer expectations of search have fundamentally transformed over the last five years, with browser searches expected to be clean, clear, accurate and immediate. That expectation for search across the web is becoming a standard for search within a site - and yet many retailers are not yet delivering.

Many e-commerce platforms come with a default that doesn't enable brands to improve and develop their search as the market develops, often only providing a static search with direct matches. Some sites, like Pandora for example (www.pandora.net), don't even offer a search function on the home page, which can be very frustrating. The site is beautifully designed but it takes time to get to my goal, which could mean a lost sale and actually did in reality this Christmas as the experience both in-store and online were simply too frustrating.

Digital is a dynamic business, and SAAS applications can offer many technological advantages. At Aspinal for example (www.aspinaloflondon.com), as soon as you start to search you're offered a range of refinements from colour, price, category and more. It's obvious that easy search that takes you straight to your goal and enables you to clarify and refine as you search will help boost conversions as it takes visitors on an easy journey. Search, however, can be so much more.

Effective search can be a game changer for marketers, as search can now provide a powerful tool to support the customer journey and respond to customer needs. Customer expectations of search have fundamentally transformed over the last five years, with browser searches expected to be clean, clear, accurate and immediate. That expectation for search across the web is becoming a standard for search within a site - and yet many retailers are not yet delivering.

SAAS technology like SLI's Learning Search (www.sli-systems.co.uk) for example can provide a competitive advantage to smaller brands and larger brands alike. The key challenge facing e-commerce sites is ensuring that their customers find exactly what they're looking for, as quickly as possible. The de facto standard for most customers is 'I want it now'! That can be difficult when considering the range of spellings, synonyms and name variants of all types of products.

The system enables a brand to outline rules that allows all synonyms and possible terms to be set as parameters. Not only that, but it learns from customer behaviour to ensure that the most searched, most likely results are prioritised. That can prove effective in merchandising and upselling but search can also provide a brand with insight into the interests of customers and patterns of search, enabling development in response to these interests.

Providing an effective search process which improves site usability has been shown to lead to increased conversions. That means generating significant ROI benefits at the same time as building brand loyalty through efficiency. By taking the SAAS approach, a brand of any size can refine its' approach, tweaking, testing and changing the way products are displayed to improve conversion rates. That means that the smallest brands can compete with the largest in providing effective search, responding to customer enquiries smoothly and effectively. By taking the SAAS approach a brand can ensure that their service can constantly be improved, all without needing to make any changes to underlying systems. The ability to transform a customer's experience of their purchase can help to level the playing field, and effective search supports the most important aspect of customer service - listening to the customer and responding to their needs.