[Pt. 2] The 4 Principles of Effective Discovery Design

Discovery Design for eCommerce relies on four key pillars, encompassing everything from product tagging to personalization. Learn all about them in this post.

effective discovery design principles

In the first installment of this series, we covered the definition and goals of effective Discovery Design — in short, a new approach to eCommerce user experience focused on making product search and discovery easy and intuitive for all shoppers. 

Because shoppers arrive on your site with a wide range of contexts, habits, and preferences, to effectively implement Discovery Design, you must take into account and accommodate these different scenarios. 

For mission-driven shoppers, this includes easy navigation and ensuring search results are super accurate. For casual browsers, this includes learning from their on-site behavior to better understand their style, taste, and intentions, and delivering on-point recommendations. For everyone in between, it means creating authentic moments of inspiration at every corner. 

To ensure you’re equipped to address each of these situations and many more that will arise, start by focusing on these four key principles of Discovery Design, which form the backbone of flexible and impactful product discovery experiences: 

1) Infrastructure: Product tagging is the key to discovery-centric merchandising 

Discovery Design relies on the ability to present relevant products with outstanding accuracy at just the right moment. To do so effectively, you need a foundation of highly detailed product metadata. By taking measures to ensure your product tags are robust and standardized, you will more easily manage your SKUs and ensure the right items are shown to their intended audiences. 

Whether you are generating search results, putting together a new collection, creating a promotion, or trying to sell off a specific style, robust tags that include synonyms, as well as the most granular product attributes, will help ensure relevant items aren’t accidentally left out. 

product tagging for effective discovery design

You will also be better positioned to implement smart merchandising — one of the most powerful drivers of conversion for eCommerce brands and retailers, and an important way to design product discovery experiences. 

With smart merchandising rules in place, you can dynamically display products based on your business goals as well as shoppers’ real-time actions. For example, you may choose to promote items with product attributes that are trending, or to promote personalized recommendations within search results, based on the details that appeal to your shoppers. 

2) Pathways: Provide multiple routes to discovery for every type of shopper

A shopper’s entry point into your site says a lot about their intentions, and subsequently, how you should tailor their customer journey. 

A shopper who types “best high-rise blue jeans” into Google and enters your site via a relevant PDP knows exactly what she wants. In this case, you’ll want to make sure there’s no unnecessary friction or distractions that could prevent her from adding the jeans to her basket. You may want to have a “Complete the Look” recommendation carousel pop up after she adds the jeans to her cart to encourage her to buy complementary items. 

On the other hand, a shopper who goes directly to your homepage and starts rifling through your featured category pages could be ripe for inspiration. Placing recommendation carousels within PLPs can help direct him to items that are more relevant for him. 

In short, a shopper who knows what he wants will want to find it as quickly as possible, while someone who’s browsing will be open to seeing more of your inventory earlier in their journey. Discovery Design prioritizes creating multiple pathways to connect these shoppers with the right items in any scenario. 

For example, accurate on-site search — and offering multiple search options — can help the goal-oriented shopper find what he’s looking for faster. Other product discovery tools, such as inspiration boards, recommendation carousels, and even search results filters showcase items that best meet a shopper’s taste, even if she isn’t sure what she wants. By turning a shopper’s screen into a curated display of items that perfectly match their taste, getting them to add more to their baskets is much easier. 

multiple pathways for search and discovery

By analyzing which products and design elements are in-demand and which trends are most popular among your customers, you can better inform your supply chain management and inventory assortment as well as promote the right products at the right time. 

For example, if in December, a high volume of shoppers start searching for bathing suits, sunglasses, and sundresses, creating a “Winter Getaway” collection for vacation-goers could help connect goal-oriented shoppers to the right products. If a certain trend in home decor starts gaining traction, like mid-century modern coffee tables, you can feature a collection of similar items to seize the momentum. 

Most brands and retailers today will periodically examine sales data to understand these trends. Tech-forward brands may use AI-based systems to predict the ideal inventory assortment. However, the data used in these types of analyses is often limited, and in turn, it limits the depth of insights you can extract and the speed with which you can act on them. 

By connecting your data analysis processes both to on-site behavioral data and to the deeper metadata infrastructure discussed above, you can suddenly understand not just that a particular SKU or even color is selling out fast — you’ll actually be able to pinpoint in real-time a rising interest in balloon sleeves or round collars or zipper detailing across your entire inventory. Your ability to trend-spot will be refined based on a nuanced understanding of shopper preferences that transcend the SKU-level. 

Effective Discovery Design depends on automating this data analysis and acting upon the insights revealed in real-time — from your inventory and supply chain management to your on-site merchandising strategy. 

4) Personalization: Make every touchpoint targeted 

Effective Discovery Design is all about catering to the ways individual customers prefer to shop. Tailoring your content, home pages, search results pages, and recommendations to fit the style and context of each shopper is integral to keeping them engaged and motivated to buy. 

For example, if a repeat-shopper always goes straight to your “New in Women’s Clothing” category page, why not shorten her path to this destination? By altering the homepage to highlight this category, you can eliminate the clicks required to get there. 

Effective discovery design on dynamite

Within your product recommendations, understanding shoppers’ context is crucial to delivering relevant suggestions. For instance, if a shopper is searching for a black crop top under $50, your recommended items should fit these criteria. On a subsequent visit, when the tops are no longer relevant, you should be able to determine what they’re looking to buy and adjust recommendations and navigation pathways accordingly in real-time. For that, you need a personalization engine that is equipped to analyze a broad range of product details.  

Once you have a strong grasp on each of these principles and how they contribute to more fruitful wayfinding on your website, the next step is to bring them to life with the right technology. Our next installment in the Discovery Design series will address the technological capabilities needed to deliver effective discovery experiences on your website.