The online plants retailer upgraded its site search thanks to Searchspring, which added autocomplete and visual search. The new search tools produced an immediate uptick in conversion. Shoppers were six times more likely to convert when using the enhanced search functions.

Online plant retailer FastGrowingTrees.com initially found building awareness about its brand challenging. But then additional struggles cropped up when consumers found their way to its site with a very broad idea in mind of what plant they wanted to buy but then didn’t complete their purchase.

FastGrowingTrees.com found the source of the problem: its search function.

“We saw quite a few people searching and converting at a lower rate than other consumers,” says Justin French, the retailer’s vice president of marketing. “If people are searching, they should have a higher propensity to buy, so we started researching different search platforms.”

It was using the search function from its undisclosed ecommerce platform, which was “very bare-bones, not robust with no controls, not able to merchandise or boost products,” he says.

FastGrowingTrees.com then migrated to Shopify Plus about two years ago. It then implemented Searchspring’s Search & Autocomplete tool in early 2020. The search provides autocomplete, which means the shopper is given a list of several options as she types her search. For shoppers with a broad search term in mind, the search bar suggests specific items in a visual dropdown as they type and it includes product images and ratings. Additionally, the search results can be filtered using facets that populate based on the product type, such as plant growing zones or sunlight levels. The retailer did not disclose how long it took to implement or the cost of the new search tools.

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After implementing the new search, FastGrowingTrees.com noticed an immediate uptick in conversion. Shoppers were six times more likely to convert when using the new search compared with shoppers who did not search. Plus, shoppers who used the search spent seven times more per visit and generated 28% of its overall revenue compared with shoppers who did not use the search.

“We’re always going to improve it,” French says. “We’re A/B testing different designs and seeing which options people are using versus not using. That can allow users to narrow down their search much faster.”

As a seasonal business, FastGrowingTrees.com does about 60% of its annual sales from March to June. Every quarter, the retailer reviews the top search queries on its site to better understand what its customers are looking for.

“We use that data in two ways: to merchandise, and to identify opportunities for new products,” French says. “If people are regularly searching for something that returns zero results, we should probably pick that product up.”

For example, FastGrowingTrees.com has found that shoppers search for and purchase flowering products in the spring and fall color trees in the autumn months. During the holidays, people are shopping for novelty items such as lemon trees. The retailer’s holiday sales are also growing bigger every year, but they are no comparison to April and May, French says without revealing specifics about the holidays.

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Online-only FastGrowingTrees.com did have an “incredible” 2020, French says. It grew its sales more than 100% in 2020 compared with 2019.

“There was not a lot to do around your house, so people wanted to get outside and garden and improve their homes,” French says. “It was a banner year and that’s continuing in this year.”

As 2021 is well underway, the plant retailer has some plans—mainly to create more awareness about its brand and category. “We want people to know that you can buy plants online, and it’s a good experience,” he says.

French compares the online plants industry to the online mattress industry. “Through social proof, you can get a good experience out of buying a mattress online,” he says. “To buy plants, people go to big-box stores or a garden center, but we’re trying to show we have a larger selection and you don’t have to figure out how to transport it. We want people to know there’s a better way to buy plants and that’s online.”

The retailer ensures its products will always arrive safely, he says. FastGrowingTrees.com uses specialty packaging that holds the plant in place and keeps it moist throughout its journey to the shopper’s door.

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FastGrowingTrees.com’s plant nursery, fulfillment warehouse and offices are based in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

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