Hunters and Gatherers: How eCommerce Search & Discovery Reflects Our Human Nature

While hunters want to be immediately connected to the item they want, casual browsers are more open to discovering a range of products along the way. Category finders will head to a specific category page, but they are open to viewing a broader range of relevant SKUs. Find out how to create experiences for both of them.

Shoes displayed as trophies

I’m on the hunt for the perfect pair of high-waisted jeans. I am scavenging the internet for a vintage Dior bag How often have you said something like this when shopping online?

There’s a reason we use words like “hunt” and “scavenge” when we’re talking about finding the items we want. It ties back to the basics of human nature — the mindsets we adopt when seeking to fulfill a need. The same mindsets as our ancient hunter and gatherer ancestors.  

Okay, you may not actually need a vintage designer bag, although sometimes it really feels like you do.

When you feel motivated to start the “hunt,” having the ability to locate the right products quickly and efficiently is essential. And when you’re just in the mode to browse, or “gather,” you seek an experience that engages and inspires you. 

For brands and retailers, creating a product discovery experience that addresses shoppers’ human nature is the key to providing a great customer experience and converting customers.  

A woman searches through a vintage clothing rack.

Meet Today’s Hunters and Gatherers

Our ancient ancestors, the hunters and gatherers, had different methods of obtaining food. At times, depending on where they were located and which wildlife was nearby, they went off to hunt animals. When hunting, success depended on staying focused on the target and acting quickly. At other times, they gathered wild fruits and plants that could provide sustenance. 

Although our methods of getting food each day have changed dramatically since that time period, the mindsets and instincts we have when seeking something we want or need remain largely intact. Even when shopping for non-essential items, like the beloved vintage bag, these instincts come into play.

In the world of eCommerce, hunters and gatherers look like this:

  • The mission-driven shopper: These are the “hunters” who know exactly what they want — say, the blue wrap dress they saw their friend wearing last night at dinner. They are already inspired, ready to spend, and don’t want to be disappointed.
  • The casual browsers: These are the “gatherers.” They are comfortable with a slower pace of product discovery, are open to more finds along the way, and are looking for inspiration. 
  • The category scanner: These are the folks who want a certain type of product, say, new running shoes, but are less specific when it comes to attributes like brand, color, or style. Think of them as the “more relaxed” version of the mission-driven shopper.

Each of these shoppers has the same goal — to buy the right product for them. However, each also has different expectations and standards for the discovery experience that gets them there. 

While hunters want to be immediately connected to the item they want, casual browsers are more open to discovering a range of products along the way. Category finders will head to a specific category page, but they are open to viewing a broader range of relevant SKUs. 

What’s more, it’s rare to find a shopper that exclusively fits into one of these categories. Today’s consumers switch between hunter and gatherer tendencies depending on their contexts and needs in the moment. As a result, brands need to be set up to provide a stellar product discovery experience for all shopping styles at any given time. 

A woman searches using a large magnifying glass.

How to Create a Product Discovery Experience That Reflects Our Human Nature

At any given time, you will have a variety of shoppers on your site. Some are in hunting mode, some are just browsing, and some are somewhere in between. Your challenge is to provide a discovery experience that caters to each one — that reflects the true human nature with which people today shop. 

Here’s how you can ensure your product discovery experience is equipped for shoppers in any mode.

Mission-driven shoppers usually go straight to your search bar after landing on your website. Nearly two-thirds of highly motivated shoppers (64%) use site search in the moment they are ready to make a purchase, while 43% of all eCommerce browsers go directly to the search bar.

That means accurate on-site search is crucial for connecting “hunters” to the products they are looking for and getting them to click “add to cart.” 

If a search produces limited or irrelevant results, you could lose them in an instant. First, they might think your store doesn’t have the item they want. And, they might not have the patience to sort through pages of irrelevant results when they are in the “hunt” mode. 

One way to ensure your on-site search is accurate is by augmenting your product tags to create a richer and more precise database for search. Instead of relying on inaccurate and incomplete product data to produce results, innovative brands are using visual AI to scan and tag product images down to the finest detail. This, combined with natural language processing (NLP) can accurately intuit shoppers’ context and intent. So, even if they use the “wrong” search terms or make a typo, your website will deliver the results they want to see. 

2. Offer multiple options for product discovery

Creating more ways to search for products gives shoppers in different modes more opportunities to find the right products for them. 

For example, visual search allows mission-driven shoppers who know exactly what they want to instantly find the right product without having to articulate it in words. It can also provide more inspiration for category scanners and casual browsers, who prefer image-led journeys from inspiration boards.

With visual search, shoppers simply upload an image to identify similar items within your inventory. This enables them to skip text search altogether if they prefer. By applying the same image search capability to all the photos on your website, including UGC or social inspiration galleries and product images, you can help shoppers follow their aesthetic tastes until they find the right items. 

Visual search for a black dress -- another option for product discovery.

3. Provide hyper-personalized product recommendations

Casual browsers who are in gathering mode will benefit greatly from truly personalized product recommendations. When product listings for items that perfectly match a shopper’s style, taste, and context appear on the screen, shoppers feel like the brand or retailer truly “gets” them. Not to mention, providing on-point recommendations is more likely to inspire shoppers into clicking on an item, adding it to their cart, and making a purchase. 

4. Focus on eliminating dead ends

Nothing halts a hunter or a gatherer in their tracks like a dead end. If it looks like there’s no food for them in one spot, you could bet our early human ancestors were out of there fast. Today, shoppers who don’t find what they’re looking for, don’t find inspiration, and don’t see a reason to keep browsing on your site will leave. 

The trick is to get them to stay. 

Even in tough situations — like when the item a shopper wants is out of stock — you can get them to stay with the right tactics

For example, by adding a “shop similar” option, you can introduce shoppers to additional SKUs that match a shopper’s style and context if the item they want is out of stock. Other capabilities, like “shop the look” recommendation carousels, connect shoppers to additional items that complement the piece they originally wanted to buy. Highly relevant and on-point recommendations could be inspiring enough to get a casual browser to buy. Using these carousels in traditional “dead end moments” — such as no results and error pages — keeps product discovery flowing, giving more energy to both hunters and gatherers. 

A neon sold out sign

Product Discovery Should Be Built With Humans in Mind

When thinking about product discovery, the most important consideration is, does this experience reflect the way modern consumers shop? 

In other words, product discovery should be designed to accommodate the ways we as humans naturally look for the products we want. It should support us when we know exactly what we are looking for, and inspire us when we only have a basic direction in mind.

The brands and retailers that get this right will reap the benefits of stellar customer experiences, greater sales, and establishing a reputation for really “getting” their customers.