In this uber-competitive world, now run on e-commerce, it pays for some businesses to focus on the niches that make their potential customers unique, with more than 7.9 billion people in the world and with 63 percent of that – approximately 5 billion – on the internet. There are plenty of opportunities for existing companies and digital-conscious would-be entrepreneurs to connect with the global market. Presently, it is evident that, for the most part, both newly digitized companies and dot com entrepreneurs worldwide have taken advantage of these opportunities that access to the world wide web has provided.
By setting up online stores, e-shops, and e-commerce outlets, both groups have changed – in a little under twenty years – the trajectory of entire industries with their commitment to digital and the many subsequent variations of selling online, such as Dropshipping, Making, and Selling your products, Sourcing from Manufacturers (Private Label Product) and Sourcing from Wholesalers.
However, even with these online business models, there is the prevailing problem of getting the attention of that section of the population who spend an increasingly significant time online. Moreover, with the creation and subsequent popularity of mobile devices and their applications, the onus is on both the digitized companies and dot com entrepreneurs to be able to showcase their businesses – and their various niches and selling points, whether it has a physical space offline, survives solely online or manages to do both, in this aforementioned global marketplace. But how do customers find these businesses and then the niche products or services they crave access to.
One of the tried and true ways for customers online to narrow down their options on an e-commerce website is called faceted search. This method is described as a way for online businesses to help consumers filter, analyze and organize sets of inventory or service choices based on popular qualifiers such as rating, price, category, age, size, brand, color, etc. What faceted search was created to help customers not get frustrated or confused but to get to whatever they are looking for as quickly as possible? So how did this tool come to being, and how did it become an irreplaceable technique that almost all websites seeking to engage with consumers have to employ.
How Was Faceted Search Developed?
Academics such as Dr. Steven Pollitt, a UK-based award-winning researcher, Professor Marti Hearst, the creator of the Hearst Patterns algorithm, Information Scientist Gary Marchionini, and Computer Scientist Ben Shneiderman all had a hand in the development of faceted search interfaces in the 90s into the 00s. This made sense because the functionality of the faceted search technique lends itself quite well to research in computer science, library, and information science disciplines. It was the faceted search development for commercial purposes, however, that made it a popular and essential process for all e-commerce websites.
Studies of the current online habits of the average internet user reveal that these users are spending less and less time searching on websites for what they desire. This means that digital marketers have their work cut out to provide a more straightforward and easier path for consumers to buy or pay for the products or services they want—the less complex the path, the better. The real change happened in the early 00s when the move was finally made to incorporate faceted search on a broader scale into most commercial search applications. The first notable example was Endeca and their early version of faceted search coined Guided Navigation.
Endeca, with its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was founded in 1999 to transform the online search and navigation experience so that people can easily access large data sets. Presently, Endeca provides solutions for enterprise search and commerce across various sectors, including financial services, manufacturing, retail, information providers, and business-to-business. Guided Navigation was created by Endeca to address the information overload problems associated with enterprise information access and retrieval and content and catalog management.
What was so special about Guided Navigation was that it wraps search results in a context that shows users how to refine and explore their results while constantly removing the dead ends that generally occur when attempting any on-site search. Companies and industry leaders like IBM, Barnes & Noble, and the Library of Congress were early adopters of this technological advancement. In addition, guided Navigation made use of user interfaces (UI) and application programming interface (API), giving content owners editorial flexibility and managerial control over their websites, turning faceted search into a viable solution to a commercial business problem while at the same time ushering in a time where a faceted search for major e-commerce websites became a specific commodity feature.
Unfortunately, despite that knowledge, faceted search remains woefully underutilized across the e-commerce landscape. But the times are certainly changing, and the world is now even more dependent on doing business online. Knowing how to get the most out of faceted search could be the edge that keeps online companies profitable. But how does faceted search help customers navigate e-commerce websites?
How Does Faceted Search Help Customers Find What They Want?
As mentioned above, faceted search functions give customers the quickest route to finding what they want to spend their money on. Because managing information overload is critical to user experience. Overwhelming consumers with options could have the adverse effect of decreasing the motivation to choose the product or service that they were searching for in the first place. For a long time, that was precisely how e-commerce websites operated, aiming to maximize the number of relevant products returned to the consumer, assuming that the more items the search returned, the more likely customers will be able to find just the right thing for them.
Faceted search helps mitigate information overload in situations where the size of the search result set is otherwise unmanageable. Faceted search allows your customers to quickly narrow down results and access products using filters and facets, managing complexity and making even seemingly overwhelming result sets easier to deal with. In addition, faceted search helps the consumer narrow down their generic requests or queries.
It is especially effective when the product or service desired is not known beforehand. Customers can now search using variables such as color, size, weight etc. Faceted search is also helpful when customers have displayed limited domain knowledge. For the experienced internet user, searching for the exact products or services they want, complete with their desired attributes, can be a relevant, straightforward task. However, for those relatively new to the process, faceted search could be a lifesaver, providing an excellent opportunity to learn about the range of features and attributes most relevant to their specific requests.
A user could never learn to understand the search space and how to put in the right keywords to initiate a proper search. Once that is done, users can quickly master the process and could regularly come up with reasonably good queries on the website’s database. As more and more options become available for purchase from large retail outlets or e-commerce websites with uncommonly vast catalog options, the faceted search method has become incredibly important. For websites like that, even when users are familiar with the search space, the search might require them to recall information from memory.
Most people are not so great with that, so using recognition while searching on an e-commerce website is vital. Furthermore, search suggestions constitute a significant advance in faceted search usability because they partly transform the query generation task from one of recall to one of recognition.
Instead of forcing consumers to come up with complex queries, they could recall only a minimum and then use recognition to augment their queries with relevant terms. Interestingly, faceted search allows e-commerce websites to keep their customers searching, which translates to higher conversions, while giving them better experiences in light of the reduced cognitive effort required.
So with more and more people solely making purchases from online vendors, improving on some of the present issues of faceted search is of the utmost importance. In addition, enhancing accessibility for mobile users is paramount as cell phone use penetration continues to rise globally. Unfortunately, most websites that employ the faceted search method have yet to optimize their faceted search option for mobile devices – their overall displays look clunky and unresponsive. That being said, e-commerce is only becoming a way of life increasingly. Because of this and the natural competition for the customer dollars, faceted search and its tenets will continue to be an important way to help customers get access to the niche products or services they want to spend their money online.