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5 reasons why guided selling should replace your faceted search

On-site searches are one of the most powerful tools available to eCommerce websites. No matter how amazing your products are, if your customers can’t find what they need they’ll shop elsewhere. And exceptional search experiences can do far more – they not only connect your customers with product recommendations that convert, they can boost your brand, enhance customer loyalty and generate rich data that powers ongoing marketing.

For years, filters and facets (multiple filters applied at the same time) were the go-to search tools for eCommerce sites. But while they still work in some scenarios, they’re no longer a good fit for large and complex product sets, or for meeting the diverse needs of individual customers. Most filtered and faceted searches are also unable to provide the high quality, trustworthy results that users are looking for, which can be detrimental to your brand – a negative search experience can confuse, frustrate and, at worst, drive your customers away.

Guided selling tools are a far better fit. They have the potential to deliver intelligent and enjoyable online experiences that showcase the best of your brand and can be tailored to each user’s needs. Here, we look at five issues with filtered searches and how guided selling not only solves these but can add a huge amount of value in the process.

1:  Filtered searches focus on tech specs

Filters and facets work by breaking the product spec into filters and eliminating products that don’t match the search criteria – for example, a ‘womens’ filter on a clothing website would eliminate the men’s clothes, while facets could refine the search further by clothing type, price and size.

Issues with this type of basic search process become most apparent in technical industries like automotives and home electronics, when the product specs – and therefore the filtering criteria – are complex. For example, when searching for a TV on one website, users have 21 facets at their disposal – but would the average person know which HDMI version to select, and whether they need a Nanocell or QLED screen? 

Using the tech spec as the search criteria means that customers need a clear picture of what they want before they begin a search. In reality, many are unlikely to be at this stage – when buying a car online, you might know which make and model you’d like, but would you know which exact variation of that model is right for you?

A search for Vauxhall Astras under £15,000 gives me 66 similar looking Astras that include six ‘SRi’ variants and four variants of the ‘Design i’, plus a host of other options. I doubt most people would understand the difference between each one, so they’re left having to do the research themselves, seek expert advice, or find an alternative website that offers more support. 

Guided selling focuses on customer needs

Rather than providing a tech spec ‘tick-list’, guided selling takes inspiration from the in-store experience, where product specialists interact with customers to understand their needs before recommending the best options – this ‘discovery’ style approach doesn’t rely on prior customer knowledge, and allows the in-store agent to draw on their specialism.

The first step is to engage customers with an offer of help that resonates. An in-store expert might do this by approaching a customer while they’re browsing a section of the store – guided selling can mimic this by engaging users when they navigate to certain pages. If a they land on the iPhone page of a telco site, for example, a guided selling engagement bubble might ask if they’d like help finding their perfect iPhone and plan.

If I use the 15gifts guided selling engine on virginmedia.com to search for a broadband package, the conversational journey explores how I’ll use the internet at home – it asks questions such as ‘how many of you are there at home?’, ‘which of these activities do you regularly do online?’ This information gives the guided selling engine the information it needs to recommend the best bandwidth (Mbps) for the user, without confusing them with jargon.

2:  Filtered searches use a one-size-fits-all approach

With filtered and faceted searches, all customers are given the same set of filters, regardless of the stage they’re at in the decision cycle, their level of technical knowledge, or what type of help they’re looking for.

This presents another hurdle for online users – some customers visiting a telco site, for example, may have a particular phone in mind but want reassurance that they’re making the right choice; others may want an iPhone but are unsure which model to go for, whereas some might be open to ideas. And whereas tech savvy customers may have a firm idea of which technical features they’d like, others will be clueless. Filtered/faceted searches don’t allow for this variation, so every user receives the same search filters to work with.

Guided selling personalises each search

Guided selling takes a personalised approach that adapts to different customer types. An in-store expert might start by ascertaining the type of customer they’re dealing with, and a high quality guided selling engine can do the same through natural conversation – by asking ‘what type of phone’ you’re looking for, the customer’s core buying motivation (budget/high-tech features/something in-between) can quickly be established. The question journey that follows can then be tailored to that customer type.

Guided selling tools can also offer flexible levels of support to users as they progress through the question journey. For example, tech-savvy customers can select the amount of phone data they’d like, while customers that are unsure can accept the offer of guided help.

If the user selects ‘help me decide’, they can be guided through a series of non-technical questions that explores their online activities and recommends the amount of data that best suits their needs. 

Personalisation also creates an emotional connection and, by allowing the user to make bite-sized personal decisions, they build confidence and trust that will ultimately increase the likelihood of a sale.

3:  Filtered searches can give too much choice

Many of today’s websites have such huge product sets that filtering throws up too many options. Ao.com has 1,516 laptops on their site and this figure can be hard to reduce to a digestible number – if prospects are unable to use filters that cover technical features like RAM and audio interface, they’re restricted to basic filters like price and colour. Similarly Walmart.com has more than 1,000 TV sets, and if I filter by price range and screen size I‘m still faced with an intimidatingly large product set of more than 100 sets to choose between. 

With too many products to consider, users struggle to make the right decision, or any decision at all – a psychological theory known as ‘choice paralysis’ or the ‘paradox of choice’. This feeling of being overwhelmed reduces the likelihood of a sale or leads to post-purchase dissatisfaction.

Guided selling refines and reduces the product set

To avoid choice paralysis, guided selling has the power to only show products that genuinely meet the customer’s needs. And, having supported the user through technical questions, the insights gathered in the question journey can generate accurate and intelligent product recommendations.

Research shows that the sweet spot for product recommendations is three. This number gives customers the final decision but also provides them with a reference point for their choice – by framing a primary product recommendation with two alternatives, the customer can compare a manageable set of recommendations without feeling overwhelmed.

4:  Filtered searches are inflexible

With filtered and faceted searches, there’s little room for flexibility – if a product doesn’t fit the exact search criteria, it won’t be shown. So if a laptop has everything I’m looking for but costs £1 more than the £499 price cap I’ve selected, or if it’s fractionally bigger than my chosen screen size, it would be hidden from view. Compare this to the in-store experience, where a salesperson could show you alternative laptops which, although may not fit your criteria to the exact penny or millimetre, could be better options.

This lack of flexibility also means that some filtering experiences can lead to ‘no results’ – a frustrating ‘dead end’ could lead users to abandon the website and shop elsewhere. Again, imagine if this was the experience in-store: if I asked for a red Vauxhall Astra and the salesperson gave me a flat ‘no’, would I work my way through the rainbow until they said ‘yes’ to a colour? In reality, the salesperson would suggest alternatives and would likely persuade me that they’re just as good or better than my original preference: “We don’t have that car in red but here’s the exact model in silver. It has all the features you wanted, and silver is the most popular car colour this year.”

Guided selling takes a more intelligent approach

By recreating the in-store experience, the best guided selling engines are far more flexible. Since customers can be asked about their lifestyle choices and buying motivations, rather than exactly how many USB ports or megapixels they’d like, the search results can be open to a wider variety of options that meet their needs.

Flexibility can also be built into the results page by showing a ‘perfect match’ that is framed by other options. At 15gifts, we do this by giving each result a match score – a measure of how well the recommended products meet the customer’s needs. On T-Mobile, for example, a product that perfectly matches the customer’s needs gets a score of 100%. Framing this are two alternatives that may not fit their criteria exactly but are still great options to consider.

And because guided selling isn’t restricted by rigid filters, ‘no results’ pages become a thing of the past.

5: Filtered searches offer no explanation

The lack of personalisation in a filtered or faceted search means that, although filters have been applied, there’s rarely an explicit link to the user’s search criteria or any explanation as to ‘why’ a particular product might be perfect for that customer.

A search on asos.com for ‘casual’ size 10 red dresses, with a price limit of £40, shows me 81 dresses. But there’s no context as to why any of these are perfect for me as an individual. As a result, I have no emotional connection to the brand or to any of the products – the likelihood of a sale is based purely on the hope that I see something I like the look of. This means that customers are less likely to commit to a purchase and that there’s a high chance of them exploring their options elsewhere.

Some filtered searches do include a ‘top recommended’ product on their results page. Yet still, there’s no clear explanation as to why the recommendation has been selected – is it genuinely my perfect TV, or is the company just looking to flog some stock? This uncertainty leads to a lack of trust, low customer satisfaction and less chance of a sale.

Guided selling can explain ‘why’

A key aspect of the 15gifts guided selling engine is explaining ‘why’ each product is a good fit for the individual. The match score tells the customer how accurately the product meets their needs, and a quick summary explains the reasoning behind this.

In the example below on vodafone.co.uk, the customer expressed the need for an iPhone with the very latest tech, a top-end camera, long battery life and waterproofing. To add another layer of reasoning, we bring in social proof – our recommendation strategy takes into account the most popular products bought by people with similar answers, and so we make this clear in the header.

In summary

Today’s online search experiences need to do more than simply reduce the number of products on a page. Ecommerce sites that assume their consumers will understand technical product specs and already have a clear idea of what they’re looking for are failing to keep up with the demands of today’s shoppers, and they need to recognise that offering more rather than fewer products can be detrimental. 

In short, filtered and faceted search tools are unable to provide the level of intelligence and flexibility that many Ecommerce sites now require, and are no longer the right fit for increasingly large and complex product sets.

Guided selling provides an alternative by focusing on customer needs. By recreating the in-store experience, the best guided selling tools engage customers in natural conversations that explore their buying motivations and individual needs, without resorting to technical jargon or restricting their search to rigid filters. 

Online conversations can be tailored to each customer type, adding a layer of personalisation that builds confidence, trust and an emotional connection that can influence the quality of the user’s answers and increase the likelihood of the sale. 

With greater flexibility, guided selling tools can help customers to discover alternative products, just like an in-store agent would. Whatsmore, the high quality insights gathered through guided selling mean that product recommendations can be accurately and intelligently refined, and that explanations can be given as to ‘why’ each product is a good fit. 

Ultimately, the beauty of guided selling is that everything from conversion and customer satisfaction to brand perception has the opportunity to soar.

With insights like these, switching to guided selling should be a no brainer.

Georgia Tregear
Georgia is 15gifts CRO