Easily Searchable Websites Means I Buy More
It used to be that when I wanted to buy something, I had to hop in the car and actually go buy it. If the store was out of what I needed to get, I was pretty much out of luck. I either had to wait until they got the item back in stock or search around for another place that sold it—not ideal, especially if it was something I needed right then. Now, though, with the advent of online shopping and its prevalence, I find myself not needing to go to brick-and-mortar stores as frequently, but even online shopping sometimes has its flaws.
Some websites only let me search by a product's category, which can lead to a seemingly endless hunt, and sometimes, the product I want isn't even there. Other sites have the product search tool set up, but don't update their inventories often enough, so again, the product I'm trying to find might be listed as available when it's out of stock. It makes me wonder why companies don't pay closer attention to their search-and-purchase stats—if they have them, and many do—and act accordingly. When I can easily find what I'm looking for on a website, I'm more likely to purchase there than I am to get frustrated and look elsewhere.
Why Search Tools Are Important
Whether you're buying a gift, looking for a car part to fix something, or just "window" shopping, it's always more efficient to have search tools in place on a website. When my wife wants to look for a specific cookbook but can't remember the name, she'll usually just type in something she remembers about the book or its author. She'll generally find what she's looking for, which is great since it means I won't get talked into a wild goose chase to some bookstore. Regardless of what a website is selling, having up-to-date inventory and a method of searching through it all typically dictates whether I'll purchase from that site. If it's hard to find what I want, I'll click over to some other, similar site that sells the same thing. If I'm looking for a very specific product that not a lot of retailers carry, and the website has a less-than-stellar search tool, it's irritating—I end up wasting a lot of time clicking around and trying, sometimes fruitlessly, to find what I need. It's important for retailers to not only have the product, but offer me a way to actually find the product I want to buy. If it's on the website but hard to find, there's a pretty good chance I'm not going to spend the time there trying to track it down.
As much as I don't like to admit it, my wife and I are avid fans of the "related product" feature that a lot of online retailers use. We'll be looking for one thing, and end up with a cart with several other things we didn't even know we wanted when we started. Online retailers have figured out a way to mimic the experience of going to a regular store, where you go in for one or two things but leave with ten, having seen other things that you suddenly "remember" you needed to pick up. If a company's product search engine is efficient enough to handle it, the site will usually show you a handful of products similar to what you searched. In my wife's case with the cookbooks, it'll show her ten other cookbooks with a similar theme, just in case she wanted five books about baking cakes instead of one. Another feature I've come to appreciate when I'm online shopping is a tool that shows what other customers have gone on to purchase when they searched for the same product. This lets me know, in the case of when a product is offered by several brands, which one is the most popular (or highest quality, etc.).
Once I've found what I'm looking for (and a few things that I wasn't really looking for but want anyways), it's important that it's easy for me to checkout. Some websites make me sign up for memberships once I'm ready to check out—which is fine, but occasionally, once I sign up for that membership, my cart is strangely empty. It's like shopping as a guest on the website gets completely canceled out, even though all the activity came from the same computer. This is frustrating, since I'm then forced to go back and find the things I had saved and put them back in my cart.
In other words, anything a company can do on their website to make the whole purchasing experience more streamlined and easier to navigate, the more likely I am to buy from them. I never much liked having to shop around at different stores, and the less I have to do it, the better.