Give DIY Consumers the Right Guidance with Site Search

If you’ve ever been in a home improvement superstore, you know that overwhelming feeling that can overtake you as you browse aisle after aisle of thousands of products.

While the online DIY (Do-It-Yourself) shopping experience is somewhat less stressful, it still generates plenty of frustration from consumers looking for something as general as a kitchen faucet or as specific as a particular size of nut or bolt. Figuring out which model is the right match, particularly among so many other home goods products, can be a challenging task.

Given the wide variety and relative ease of ordering DIY goods online, it’s no surprise that consumers are turning to online merchants for their home or commercial design and repair projects.

According to IBM Smarter Commerce, sales in the home improvement category, which includes items such as house paint, appliances and furniture, increased by 30% from July 2011 to July 2012. Additionally, IBISWorld Market Research reports that online hardware and tool sales represent a $6 billion market, which has grown an average of 7.8% each year since 2007.

To make the most of consumers’ willingness to buy these types of products online, commercial and home goods retailers need to keep in mind some key challenges in this market.

First, customers may have varying levels of expertise, ranging from first-time do-it-yourselfers who need a lot of hand-holding to experienced professionals who know what tools and materials they need.

Second, these types of products may be searched for in very different ways. Customers shopping for appliances or décor may be driven by price, brand or appearance, whereas people who need a tool or part are looking to match a particular specification, such as gauge, thread size or dimension.

Whether your ecommerce site carries home repair or home décor products – and whether it caters to pros or amateurs – you need easy, logical tools to help shoppers search for and find the right items. Search and navigation play an important role in helping shoppers avoid confusion when looking for everything from a lampshade to window blinds.

For instance, your search results need to be highly relevant to the keyword terms entered by visitors; if customers can’t find what they’re looking for on the first pages of results, they’re likely to leave.

Websites selling hardware and home improvement supplies can also take extra steps to ensure that searches by size always provide relevant results. For example, depending on the manufacturer or product, items might have measurements in metric or imperial units, or both. Furthermore, the way site visitors search may cause confusion if they use decimals when the product is listed in fractional units. Your site search system should allow for searches and refinements in any necessary measurements.

Along these lines, your search solution should also make it easy for visitors to search by SKU or part number instead of a product name. Often DIY shoppers will try to speed up their search by using a SKU or part number from a repair or instruction manual, to ensure they are getting the exact item they need. Your site search should accommodate such requests.

If your retail model includes brick and mortar store locations, geolocation services (e.g. being able to identify the nearest store holding the product you are after) can be immensely helpful in directing customers to products that they can pick up in-store. In addition, you can use search and geolocation to show any variations in price by region, which can help shoppers make purchasing decisions.

Supporting information about products, specifications and DIY techniques can also encourage shoppers to click on the “add to cart” button, because the more they know about products, the more confident they’ll feel about embarking on a design or repair project.

Toward this end, you can add how-to or technical specification documents, video tutorials, blog posts and community forum posts into your search results, so that visitors are shown these materials during their product searches. Even better, separate out these categories of results in their own tabs, so visitors will find it easy to navigate to the content type they want.

Product ratings and reviews also help round out the information that DIY shoppers need to make their choices. Here again, make this information available via site search, and allow shoppers to refine results by best-rated or reviewed.

Judging by the number of DIY-related TV programs and magazines, consumers have a healthy (and growing) appetite for improving their homes. Create the right environment for capturing the attention of these consumers with fast, clear, and easy ways to find DIY products on your ecommerce site.

Geoff Brash is co-founder of SLI Systems.

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