6 in 10 Online Shoppers want better Product Search Experiences

Constructor's 'State of Ecommerce Product Search and Discovery' report also highlights the potential for ChatGPT in ecommerce
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Ever had an off-putting product search experience? Perhaps you were looking for an item on a retail website and were bewildered to come up empty-handed. Or maybe pages of search results flooded you with options… none of which really met your needs. You’re not alone. According to a new study from Constructor, 6 in 10 U.S. online shoppers (60%) think the online search function on retail websites needs an upgrade.

The findings come from an online survey of more than 460 U.S. shoppers conducted this year and summarized in the report “State of Ecommerce Product Search and Discovery 2023: Shoppers in Search of a Change.” Consumers were asked about various aspects of their online shopping experiences — in particular, related to how they search and browse on ecommerce websites, excluding Amazon. Results highlighted where digital experiences may be lacking for shoppers, and the value retailers can unlock by driving strategic improvements.

Shoppers’ pain points
For shoppers today, the path from “search” to “purchase” isn’t always straightforward, engaging or hassle-free. For example:

  • Wait just a minute… Nearly 1 in 3 shoppers (30%) say it takes at least 3 minutes to locate the item they need when using the search function on retail websites. Only 28% call their experiences finding products “quick.”
  • Results mismatch: In reference to their most recent ecommerce search experience, a third of shoppers (33%) say that although the results displayed were technically relevant to their query (e.g., they searched for “shirts” and saw shirts), the selection wasn’t appealing to them or what they’d hoped to see.
  • Do you even know me? When consumers shop with their favorite retailer, more than 1 in 3 (34%) say the site treats them like a total stranger each time they visit: presenting items that, in no way, reflect their preferences, prior purchases or history with the brand.
  • Are we having fun yet? Less than 3 in 10 shoppers (29%) would describe their most recent experience finding products on a retail website as “enjoyable.”

Shoppers shared what would make their product search experiences better. Among the items on their wishlists:

  • Results that more closely reflect what they’re looking for (46%)
  • Better filtering of search results (41%)
  • More personalized results (34%)
  • Autocomplete, to accurately finish their queries (30%)
  • More integrated online and in-store functionalities (29%)
  • The ability to type full sentences into the search bar… and have it understand (23%)

Meeting shoppers’ needs: A win-win
When online shoppers can’t easily find what they need, it’s a turnoff: They often leave the ecommerce site (62%), look for/purchase the item from a different retailer (55%) — specifically Amazon (49%), feel frustrated with the experience and brand (22%), and use a different retailer for future needs as well (19%).

But on the flip side, good product discovery experiences literally pay off. Shoppers say that when retail sites make it easy to find what they need, they’re more likely to:

  • Buy the item they’re searching for — Nearly 3 out of 4 (74%)
  • Return to the retailer’s site in the future — 62%
  • Recommend the retailer and/or leave a positive review — Nearly 1 in 3 (31%)
  • Engage across the retailer’s other channels (28%)

What’s more, shoppers say if they were guaranteed an excellent product search and discovery experience at a given retailer, they’d shop more there (74%), choose the retailer for related goods (52%), act as brand advocates (48%) and even be willing to pay 5-10% more for items on the site (15%).

“Good product discovery experiences breed good results: they’re a win-win for the shopper and retailer alike,” said Courtney Austermehle, Constructor CMO. “Our data also shows that nearly 9 in 10 shoppers are spending the same — or more — time and money on online shopping, compared to a year ago. It’s a wakeup call for brands: By making even small and incremental improvements to product search and discovery functionality, they can gain valuable mindshare and wallet share too, and measurably improve customer experiences.”

A tech-enabled future (let’s chat about ChatGPT!)

As consumers make a compelling case for change — both with their opinions and with their purchasing power — retailers have an opportunity to tap into technology to drive better experiences and better results.

What technologies can help make this happen? Shoppers say they’d be interested in retailers using personalization (65%), ChatGPT (29%) and other AI that can tailor results based on shopper preferences (25%) to improve online search experiences.

As ChatGPT continues to transform and engage the business landscape, the survey also looked at whether and how consumers use the technology, and how it might be used and received in ecommerce search — with younger generations expressing greater openness to trying it out.

  • ChatGPT adoption: Nearly 3 in 10 consumers (29%) say they’ve already used ChatGPT in their work and/or personal lives, citing uses ranging from “playing around” to “homework” to “cover letter” to “generating code” and more. Looking across age groups, consumers ages 18-44 have a greater propensity to use the tool (43%), compared to their over-45 counterparts (16%).
  • ChatGPT for product discovery: 42% of shoppers say they would be “very” or “somewhat comfortable” using ChatGPT on a retail site to help find the right products for them (48% among shoppers ages 18-44; 35% among shoppers ages 45+). 22% of shoppers overall say they’d be “somewhat” or “very” uncomfortable using it in this way, with the rest feeling neutral.
  • Compelling use cases: But when presented with specific use cases for ChatGPT, shoppers were more likely to find it valuable. For example, more than 4 in 10 (42%) thought it could be helpful in generating personalized buyer’s guides (47% among those 18-44; 37% among those 45+), and 37% think the technology could be valuable when searching for clothes by occasion and/or location.

“Generative AI like ChatGPT holds great promise in product discovery — especially when it can be trained on ecommerce data and combined with personalization technology, so that results highlight current inventory and surface items that shoppers actually like,” said Constructor CEO Eli Finkelshteyn. “We’re still in the early days, and no one’s exactly sure how big a part generative AI will play in product discovery, but with the early results and excitement we’re seeing from people using some of our prototypes in the space, we’re becoming more and more certain it will have a part to play in helping shoppers find products they’ll love.”

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