With e-commerce accounting for a record 35.2% of all retail in January 2021, perfecting online product discovery became a priority for retailers. Whilst some would have already invested years of data science into their digital strategy, many others were left struggling to meet their customers' demands. Without in-person stores, customers looked to online shops in the hopes they would be just as easy and appealing to interact with as the high-street store. This shift seems to be here to stay, with 26.6% of customers indicating they will be shopping online more now compared to before the pandemic and 85% of customers planning to keep shopping online, despite stores reopening.


However, whilst there may be more customers than ever online, convincing these shoppers to purchase can be harder than in-store, where they can see the product choices in person. Part of this issue is the difficulty of online product discovery. With much of in-store retail, customers are often browsing a well-organised and categorised store, with retail workers prepared to help with any decision making. This is not the case with e-commerce purchases, with 87.6% of shoppers finding the quantity of product options overwhelming which often leads to decision fatigue and a loss of purchase. This phenomenon of decision fatigue occurs when the user becomes reluctant to engage with any more content, due to the cognitive effort they have already exuded. We have touched on this in previous blog posts which looked at the ‘paradox of choice’, made famous by Columbia University’s research project using jam samples, which showed that more choices do not in fact lead to a higher conversion rate but often the outcome to not make any decision at all. When 6 flavours of jam were offered, 30% of those who tasted samples made a purchase. When 24 flavours of jam samples were made available to shoppers, only 3% who tasted the jam samples went on to make a purchase. Even small decisions become overwhelming with the introduction of the ‘paradox of choice’. If a customer has already made a decision between a shirt or a jacket, a short jacket or a long jacket, and the brand of a jacket, they are likely to be mentally overwhelmed if they are then faced with even more alternatives that only differ slightly in price or colour.

With online retail, this scenario can occur in multiple customer interactions. Some shoppers may be endlessly scrolling, looking for a moment of inspiration, reminiscent of walking into a high street store looking for something to catch their eye. Others may be searching for something specific within thousands of products in a given retailer’s assortment. There are ways to improve product discovery and reduce overwhelming options (for example, improving online search). However, a focus on search relies on the assumption that the customer knows what query to search, but this is often not the reality. Especially not for gifting.

Without the guided questions of a retail worker, many customers looking to buy gifts will often either leave the store or purchase a poor gift out of panic. Instead, retailers should focus on improving search and discovery. This utilises contextual results, informed by relationships between products and may often consider previous purchase history and personal data relating to the shopper or their gift recipient (such as demographic data).

  • Autocomplete Search Bar: Not only does autocomplete search bar reduce the time it takes for a customer to start their product search, but it also offers inspiration as they type. Netflix, for example, has very short search length because whenever a user presses a key, the search result is updated to reveal a more relevant list of shows or movies. Implementing solutions like this into a retail website can boost sales by up to 24%.
  • Optimised Navigation Options: With clear product listings and an ever-present search bar, customers always have the option to change their mind and look for another product. Similarly, navigational search and browsing pages with related products allow customers to find products quickly, offering an easy customer experience. Sites with low usability in their navigation suffer abandonment rates of 69-80%. The abandonment rate for the exact same products on e-commerce sites with optimised product listing and filtering is 17-33%. In the Baymard Institute’s estimation, this leads to up to 400% improved leads and conversions.
  • Personalised Recommendations: Much like a retail worker, there are now many digital solutions that use artificial intelligence to learn about a customers' preferences and requirements to recommend the most relevant products, providing direct product discovery as opposed to endless scrolling. We have discussed the importance of personalisation in previous blog posts, with customers now expecting a personalised experience and being willing to pay more for it. Most personalised recommendation solutions will focus on user data such as past search history, location, and demographics. With BOON, retailers can leverage up-to-date personality, demographic and intention data to make intelligent AI-powered product recommendations.