How to Build an eCommerce Site Optimized for Product Discovery

Don’t let consumers leave empty-handed when out of stock. Improve the buyer journey and increase site revenue by optimizing your site for product discovery.

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Your DTC brand could be hemorrhaging sales if you aren’t helping customers find the products they need.

A study by the Grocery Manufacturers Association written by Daniel Corsten and Thomas Gruen found that brands and resellers could gain $22 billion by recapturing the sales lost when consumers can’t find the product they’re looking for. 

When faced with out-of-stock products online, 60% of U.S. consumers bought a substitute from the same store, 15% went to a competitor, 10% to a retail store and 15% didn’t buy at all. That means you can still convert nearly half your visitors, even if you don’t have the exact product they initially came to buy.

However, you do need to make it as easy as possible for your consumers to find a substitute. Use the five product discovery optimization strategies below.

1. Make Your Site Easy to Navigate

Let’s start with your eCommerce site’s structure, which should be structured to make it as easy as possible for consumers to move around. This won’t just improve the experience for consumers who know exactly what they are looking for; it will make it easier for consumers to browse a range of products, too.

When it comes to site structure, content marketing consultant Bill Widmer has two rules: You should be able to navigate to any page in three clicks, and whatever structure you use should be able to scale. Adhering to both rules ensures consumers can navigate your store easily while allowing page authority to flow freely around your site. The former makes it easier for consumers to find new products. The latter makes product and category pages rank higher in Google searches.  

Few elements are as important for good site structure as the navigation bar. Thomas John, Senior Director and Commerce Practice Lead at Rightpoint, recommends including categories and subcategories that allow consumers to narrow their search quickly. There’s a big difference between letting a consumer start a product search in the “cocktail dresses” category compared to “women’s apparel,” he says.

Finally, include breadcrumbs at the top of each page. Breadcrumbs achieve three things, according to Terakeet’s SEO Manager Jonas Sickler:

  • They help consumers understand where they are on your site.
  • They help consumers navigate your website easily and return to category pages.
  • They improve your site’s SEO, making it more discoverable in search engines. 

Great product discovery optimization is all about covering your bases. That’s why a comprehensive navigation menu and intuitive site structure aren’t enough on their own. You also need an effective on-site search solution.

By effective, we mean one that delivers relevant results, even when consumers don’t search accurately. It’s essential to “account for misspelling and typos,” says the team at CartStack. You should never return a blank page, either. Program your site search to return the most relevant products where possible or list the most in-demand items if nothing else. 

The results your on-site search displays will depend on the metadata you include for each product. In the past, many eCommerce sites were limited to manufacturer-defined product attributions, explains Emil Waszkowski, Head of Consulting at Future Mind. That’s changing for the better and allowing brands to meet their consumers’ needs more accurately.

Incorporating metadata that goes beyond product size and color to include things like “style, occasion and seasonality” may also reduce your bounce rate, writes Bhavani Tirumurti, Director of Product at More nuanced and detailed product descriptions let brands subdivide products into related themes and collections, she explains.

3. Flesh Out Category Pages

Category pages are a great way to help consumers narrow their searches and find a wide range of suitable products. While most eCommerce stores have them, many aren’t optimized for product discovery.

A common problem is hiding products on a second or third page in an attempt to boost site speed, says Stoney deGeyter, Director of Digital Marketing at Socket Mobile. While this tactic will make your website faster, consumers will tire of clicking through page after page of product. That means those on the very last pages will barely get seen.

“The best option for both visitors and search engines is to display all your products on a single page, with on-demand image loading and strong product filtering options,” writes deGeyter. “Not only does this help get more products into the search results, but it also doesn’t add unnecessary page load time.”

Make sure the filters on your category pages update in real-time. Waiting until the user has made all their selections may cause them to think that the feature isn’t working, writes Searchspring Product Marketing Manager Lane Fries. Consumers can find a product at any time, he adds. “This also helps with the trust aspect, as they can see exactly what effect their selections are having on the eCommerce product discovery process.”

Try not to mix category pages, either. Category pages — and their search functionality in particular — should remain independent of each other, says content marketer Kylie Ora Lobell. “For example, if customers are on the purses section of a clothing website, the search results should only display what’s on the purses page.”

Optimizing category pages is often more effective from a traffic generation perspective, too, says Jumpfly’s SEO Director Jill Kocher Brown. In a study of 30 U.S. eCommerce sites that rank for more than 25 billion keywords, category pages ranked better in Google and delivered more traffic.

4. Optimize Out-of-Stock Product Pages 

Keeping your inventory fully stocked is a separate challenge. You can’t control what happens at the manufacturing plant, but you can control what consumers do when they land on an out-of-stock product page

Don’t assume that you’ve lost the consumer for good when your products are discontinued or out of stock, says Growcode Co-Founder and COO Pawel Ogonowski. Instead, suggest similar products to help consumers discover alternatives that may also be suitable. 

According to Inflow’s Alex Juel, “60% of users that land on out-of-stock product pages are willing to still buy something from the same merchant.” Don’t settle for promoting random products, however. He recommends being intentional with the products you select and tracking how they convert. 

British online retail giant ASOS is an excellent example of how to do out-of-stock product pages correctly, says freelance blogger Tad Chef. They list 40 similar products available in the same size and color from the same brand. If a customer still doesn’t convert, there’s not much you can do about it. 

5. Implement Cross-Sells and Upsells Throughout Your Site

Well-written product pages can be a great source of organic traffic. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that consumers who land on your page will want to buy that specific product. That’s why you need to show a range of related products, explains AB Tasty’s Anthony Brebion.

Many of the world’s biggest eCommerce brands use upselling and cross-selling to sell more items, notes digital marketing consultant Shane Barker. Amazon, for instance, shows related products and those usually purchased together on each product page, allowing customers to find new products without having to search themselves.

Some brands use a form of social proof to cross-sell products, writes Visiture Co-Founder and CMO Ron Dod. Brands like TJ Maxx add “best seller” and “trending” carousels on pages to show consumers the most in-demand items at the moment.

You don’t have to limit cross-sells and upsells to product pages, though. Adding products to your homepage gives your customers an idea of what to buy when they land on your site, writes Emil Kristensen, CMO and Co-Founder of Sleeknote.

Your DTC eCommerce store wears a lot of hats. It isn’t just a replacement for a brick-and-mortar showroom. It also needs to replace retail assistants who would otherwise guide consumers to suitable and recommended products. By implementing the product discovery strategies discussed you optimize the customer experience and may prevent them from turning to competitors.

Images by: Agence Olloweb, Igor Miske, socialcut

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