Consumers who use website search filters are much more likely to buy than those who don’t.

When customers walk into a store for the first time, it probably is not a good idea to rush toward them with information about specials before you know what they are hoping to find. Likewise, first-time visitors to an e-retailer’s website seek out—and use—guidance when they come in, according to data collected by Edgecase, a provider of product data enrichment technology.

Engagement rates for product filters on its retailer client websites are, on average, 40% higher for first-time visitors than for returning shoppers, Edgecase finds. So, during the holidays, when retailers often see a surge of first-time visitors, site search engines and filters can make a difference in terms of sales, the firm says.

Clients experienced an overall 48.7% increase in filter engagement on Black Friday and a 46.7% increase on Cyber Monday, across all platforms, the company says. For mobile shoppers, filter engagement for Edgecase clients spiked fivefold during the period compared with the rest of the year. Edgecase also finds that repeat shoppers who use filters tend to convert 52% more often, on average, while first-time shoppers who use filters post conversion rates twice as high as those who don’t.

“First-time shoppers want to discover and be inspired,” says Garrett Eastham, chief data scientist at Edgecase. But that’s something that e-retailers often ignore, he says.

Though e-retailers typically attract a good chunk of first-time web visitors over the holidays, Eastham says, websites often focus heavily on holiday deals and promotions. That can be a problem if retailers don’t also make it easy for new customers to quickly dive into merchandise that interests them.


That’s consistent with the results of an Internet Retailer survey of 254 consumers conducted in October for inclusion in the 2017 Guide to Website Design. The survey finds that what web shoppers want more than anything is help finding what they want to buy. More than 72% say they want a site that makes it easy for them to find what they want. For mobile sites, that percentage tops 75%.

The Internet Retailer survey also finds that more than 73% of respondents had made a purchase on a smartphone or tablet other than travel- and entertainment-related purchases such as airline tickets, hotel rooms or movie tickets. Among those who had not made such purchases, just over 29% say they do not own a smartphone or tablet, nearly 18% worried about security over mobile devices and almost 12% cited difficulties checking out.

E-commerce technology company Adobe Inc. predicts that mobile shoppers will account for the majority of visits—53%—to retail websites throughout the holiday season. Retailers are responding. In 2015, 412 retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 had a mobile-optimized site, up from 394 in 2014 and 361 in 2013. Mobile apps also are on the rise. In 2015, 257 of the Top 500 offered a mobile app, up from 228 in 2014 and 212 in 2013.

Given the importance of guiding customers to what they want, it’s not surprising that retailers are responding in innovative ways. The Guide to Website Design reports that some retailers are experimenting with leading-edge technology—such as artificial intelligence and machine learning—to help shoppers locate the right products.  Artificial intelligence (AI) is a type of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior using computers. Machine learning is a type of AI that provides computers with the ability to learn when they are exposed to new data instead of being explicitly programmed by an individual.

Everything that is true about the importance of search on desktop is amplified on mobile, Eastham says, because the smaller screen size and often urgent nature of mobile shoppers makes getting them to the right products quickly even more important. But, too often, Edgecase finds, site search tools have limitations that can frustrate customers. For example:

  • 84% of e-commerce search engines don’t understand subjective attributes like “high quality” or “cheap.”
  • 60% of e-commerce search engines don’t support thematic searches like “spring dress” or “office chair.”
  • For dress shirts, filters like “cuff size,” “collar style” and “features” convert shoppers 58% more often than those utilizing other filters.

As an example of a retailer that does navigation particularly well, Eastham cited client Sur La Table, No. 265 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500. The kitchenware retailer’s home page includes navigation to preselected categories: “Gifts for the Chef,” “Gifts for the Baker,” “Gifts for the Host,” “Gifts for the Family,” “Stocking Stuffers” and “Gift Cards.” Other sections of the home page allow consumers to shop by brand or categories, such as cutlery or ornaments.

The good news, Eastham says, is that there is still time in the holiday season for retailers to tweak their websites with first-time visitors in mind. For example, he suggests that banner space or other website real estate could be devoted to helping consumers narrow categories quickly.

That could be worth doing. A study from live chat provider LivePerson Inc. finds that 70% of shoppers bought less than half of the gifts they needed to buy during the Thanksgiving weekend. A quarter purchased between 51-99% of the gifts they need to and just 5% purchased all of their holiday gifts, according to the survey.