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The 4 different types of ecommerce product search

Jessica Farelly
By Jessica Farrelly

For online shoppers, there’s nothing more frustrating than an ecommerce product search that leads to irrelevant results. Especially when the site carries the product in question but just can’t accommodate the search query. 

As an online retailer, it’s important to understand the different types of ecommerce product searches that customers may be conducting on your site so you’re prepared for all search-related scenarios. 
Having a search bar that can interpret the intent behind various search types is key to delivering relevant results within each context. That way, even if you don’t offer the specific products they’re searching for, you’re not leaving your site visitors with zero results pages and subpar user experiences. 

Ecommerce product search type #1: general searches 

When you walk into BestBuy, everything is organized so that you can immediately locate the department you need. Looking for laptops? Great, head over to the laptop section and start browsing the models that suit your requirements. 

Likewise, when someone visits an online store, they may want to bypass your homepage and navigation and head straight to the products they’re looking for. This is when they might turn to your search bar and type something like “Acer laptop” to start browsing results.  

This customer has an idea of what they’re looking for; they know they want to buy a laptop and Acer is the brand that interests them the most. The intent to purchase is there, but they are possibly still in the research phase and a little further off converting than a shopper who inputs a more specific search. 

Providing filtering options within search results can help these shoppers narrow down all of the available options to find the products that best meet their needs. By encouraging them to select their preferred screen size, price range, and various other features, you’re gently guiding them along the path to purchase. Making relevant suggestions within your search autocomplete is another smart way to prompt shoppers to view more specific results.

ecommerce product search with autocompleteBonus tip: include inline banners in the product results to link to any buying guides you offer. This gives overwhelmed or undecided shoppers an alternative way to continue their research – while still keeping them on your site. 

Ecommerce product search type #2: use case and/or symptom searches 

This type of product search is quite common: the shopper doesn’t know the precise product they need, but they do know the problem they’re trying to solve. 

In a mall, this customer might walk into Sephora and ask for recommendations based on their skin type or concerns. The sales assistant will make some suggestions, and help the shopper to find the best product for their needs. 

Similarly, when this shopper visits an online store, they might type “dry skin” into the search bar as the first step in finding the perfect moisturizer. However, if the store doesn’t have skin type set up as a searchable data field in this instance, the shopper may end up landing on “no results found,” despite the fact there are many suitable products available. 

To avoid scenarios like this one, online retailers should regularly analyze and review search behavior data to gain an understanding of how customers search, and which attributes matter most to them. There is no one-size-fits all rule for which data fields should be searchable on your store, your approach should always be tailored to your specific audience. 

Search reports will also highlight opportunities for synonyms and redirects to accommodate this type of product search. If, for example, you see a spike in searches for “hay fever” every spring, you could set up a dedicated landing page featuring antihistamine and other allergy-relief products, and redirect hay fever-related searches straight to these results.  

By getting this right, you’re essentially setting your search bar up to understand the intent behind non-product search queries, ensuring shoppers have a seamless experience. 

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ecommerce merchandising high converting product displays

Ecommerce product search type #3: descriptive searches 

Ever try to buy something in a store without quite knowing what it was called? If you couldn’t locate it in the relevant section, you probably tried describing it to a sales assistant who immediately knew just the thing you were looking for, right?

Online, your search bar needs to replicate this expert understanding of shoppers’ sometimes long-winded or confusing descriptions.   

Maybe a shopper visits your home decor site in the hopes of finding a rug they spotted while browsing Pinterest for inspiration. They type in “diamond rug patterns,” but your naming conventions refer to this style of product as a “geometric patterned rug.” The product in question is exactly what the shopper is looking for, but the language used to describe it is different. 

Will your search bar return the relevant results? Or will this customer encounter “no results found” because of a difference in wording?

Again, it’s crucial that you keep an eye on your search reports to identify how customers describe your products, and set up search synonyms accordingly. You may even find it’s worth updating your naming conventions to better reflect how customers describe your products.

Ecommerce product search type #4: specific or long-tail searches 

The final type of ecommerce product search you need to account for is the highly specific or long-tail searches customers may perform. These usually have the highest purchase intent since, unlike type #1, the shopper knows the specific product they’re looking for. 

These types of product searches can include searching by an item’s SKU number, a product code, or very specific details, e.g. “short-sleeve, v-neck, long black dress with pockets.” These are very precise parameters and only exact or close results will do for this user. Showing red dresses, or dresses with long sleeves won’t cut it. 

Your search bar needs to recognize the multiple attributes that may be included in the search query, and distinguish between attribute and product type to match the results accordingly. If, for example, a shopper searches for “red Nike shoes,” they should receive a very different set of results to a shopper who searches for “red Nike shoe laces.” 

ecommerce product search attributes

By implementing an intelligent search solution on your store, you can ensure shoppers find the specific results they’re looking for, instead of an assortment of products that only loosely match parts of their search term. 

How to optimize the site search experience for your customer base

Your ecommerce site search solution should enable you to set up synonyms, redirects, and filters within your search results – to name just a few crucial features. Robust reporting is another must-have to identify trends in how customers search for products on your site. Check out our in-depth site search guide for more best practices, or request a Searchspring demo to learn more about implementing these solutions on your store!