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The Connection Between Product Discovery and Customer Experience

eCommerce Best Practices
UX and Digital Marketing
Visual Search and AI
Josh KlawanskyJosh Klawansky | March 4, 2021

Ineffective product discovery is the first tell of a subpar customer experience. Consider the following scenario:

It’s 3:00 pm, and Claire suddenly realizes that she still doesn’t have an outfit for her ‘90s themed Zoom happy hour that’s just two days away. She scrolls through Instagram for some inspiration and saves a couple of posts. Now that she has a general idea of what she’s looking for, she goes to your website.

Let’s say you offer next-day shipping — perfect for Claire’s last-minute need. On the hunt for a baby pink cap sleeve crop top, she heads to your site menu and selects “tops.” Cue 13 pages of shirts, the vast majority of which are completely irrelevant, and a couple of filters for color and price. Frustrated that she can’t narrow down her options, she opts to try the search bar — she does find some pink tops, but none of them are remotely close to the style she’s after. She leaves, disappointed by the experience and assuming you have nothing relevant in stock.

A smarter approach to product discovery, one that ensures Claire could find exactly what she was looking for without jumping through hoops, one that reflects her unique tastes and needs in the moment — well, that would’ve won her over as a happy customer. Intuitive and effective product discovery sets your entire customer experience up for success.

online product discovery

Why Product Discovery Matters

Let’s start by defining product discovery: It refers to the way your customers browse through and find your products. A holistic approach to product discovery should address every aspect of your website that enables shoppers to uncover the most relevant products for them, regardless of the way they choose to explore. This includes your on-site search, recommendation engines, website navigation and filters, and merchandising.

Getting product discovery right is a must because the rest of your customer experience relies on it:

  • For 61% of users, not finding what they’re looking for right away on a site will push them to quickly move on to another site, according to Google.
  • Forrester revealed that at least 68% of shoppers will not return to a website after a poor product search experience.
  • Users often leave web pages in 10 to 20 seconds. Nielsen Norman Group suggested that you must clearly communicate your value proposition, i.e., surface the products your shoppers are looking for, within 10 seconds.

When your product discovery experience is not up to snuff, your customers are going to leave your website for your competitors, without ever experiencing what your brand has to offer. By contrast, when you get it right, you’re creating a value-based customer experience worth coming back for from the very first moment.

Product Discovery Best Practices That Impact Customer Experience

Product discovery doesn’t always end early on in the shopper journey — in fact, you can help shoppers find new products they’ll love at virtually every touchpoint. To ensure your product discovery strategy is optimized not only to satisfy your customers but also to have a profound impact on your bottom line, consider the following best practices:

1. Provide multiple ways for shoppers to discover products on your website

Some shoppers  — up to about 64%, according to Forrester — use on-site search on retailer sites, while others prefer to navigate through your menu or featured collections. Other shoppers yet prefer to browse leisurely and wait until a product photo piques their interest.

Considering the various preferences of customers, having multiple paths for product discovery ensures that every type of shopper will have the option to effectively explore your site in the way that’s most comfortable for them.

For example, visual search and icon-based navigation are a great fit for shoppers who may have a hard time putting what they’re looking for into words. Smart site search that can detect the intent behind search terms even if there are spelling mistakes or thematic keywords like ‘90s style’ is also helpful for shoppers who struggle with the specific terminology but don’t have an image on hand to use for visual search.

For shoppers who aren’t as goal-oriented, recommendation carousels are critically important — if they’re able to intuit customer tastes and showcase similar items to the styles they like, you’ll be able to catch their attention as they browse.

2. Deliver continuous product discovery journeys

Customer journeys are no longer linear, and this means product discovery can start anywhere on your website. On the homepage, persona-based collections or image galleries featuring bestsellers, popular styles, and latest drops are great for showcasing your most eye-catching products. On product and checkout pages, you can recommend similar items, complementary products, or even product search history to keep shoppers engaged.

The same features that enable continuous product discovery journeys throughout your site can also prevent dead-ends. For example, a Pinterest-like visual search tool can help shoppers find look-alike styles on a product page if the size or color that they want is unavailable. On 404 or ‘no results’ pages, recommendation engines can surface relevant products based on shoppers’ browsing behavior or past purchases. The goal is for shoppers to easily discover more products they’ll love at any point in their journey, turning even a disappointing out-of-stock moment into a positive experience.

3. Put the control in your customers’ hands

This is particularly useful for brands and retailers with a massive inventory. While the above tips already support improved product discovery; Sometimes, when you have tens of thousands of items in stock, even search results can be a lot to sift through.

Robust filters — or faceted search — can help shoppers narrow down results according to the criteria they care about most. By providing the option to narrow down results by color, size, material, occasion, style, dimensions, location availability, shipping method, and more, you giving your customers control to find products that meet their most important needs — they can also mix and match attributes to conveniently uncover products that are relevant to what they have in mind.

It’s crucial to note that product tags must be consistent, accurate, and up to date for filters and faceted search to work well. To overcome the challenges associated with manual tagging, many brands use automatic product tagging that provides more robust, detailed metadata.

The Secret to Customer Experience Success

Claire is just one of the many types of shoppers visiting your website. You also have bargain hunters, casual browsers, brand loyalists, and more. Every single one of them has different shopping habits and motivations that you need to cater to.

According to Accenture, 48% of consumers have left a website and purchased on another because it was poorly curated. By adding a personalization layer to the product discovery strategies discussed above, you can ensure not only that your site is easy to navigate, but that every recommendation, results page, and even product listing page prioritizes the intent and aesthetic tastes of each shopper in real-time.

Product discovery done right connects shoppers to items they want to buy while making them feel understood, and this builds confidence in your brand. In return, it can help:

  • Increase both conversion and retention thanks to frictionless and intuitive experiences.
  • Encourage spontaneous purchases and boost average order value by surfacing products that reflect your shoppers’ individuality
  • Leverage better insights for optimizing merchandising, managing inventory, and forecasting trends as you get to know your customers on a deeper level.

So, What’s the Bottom Line?

When shoppers face roadblocks while looking for products on your website, it’s an instant missed opportunity to deliver a great customer experience. Perhaps you have a generous return and exchange policy, sustainable packaging, or even a creative rewards program. None of these customer-experience-enhancing factors will matter if you can’t connect shoppers to the products they’re searching for to begin with.

Customer experience is now the most critical and defining element separating one brand from another. For you to stand out and truly deliver competitive shopping journeys, acing product discovery is a must. Otherwise, the rest of your customer experience risks irrelevance.


Josh Klawansky

Josh Klawansky

Joshua is the Senior Demand Generation Manager at Syte. Growing up, all his friends wanted to be firemen, but he was set on becoming a scientist. Nowadays, he applies that passion for testing and accuracy to his career in tech.

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