Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Licensed vs. Hosted Shopping Carts

Should you buy a licensed shopping cart or rent a hosted e-commerce solution? It's a big decision. There are clear advantages and disadvantages with both approaches. Practical eCommerce just ran two interviews on the topic.

It's an interesting debate, with no winner. There's no winner simply because both solutions have reasons to exist and businesses for which they represent the right fit.

The important part is that - if you are in the process of deciding how to build your estore - you understand the good and not-so-good aspects of both solutions.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tips & Tricks: Optimizing your "Search Box"

Search is a key feature for any e-commerce store. According to recent studies, half of visitors to an online store begin their visit by typing a keyword in the search box. And consumers that use the search feature appear more likely to buy than others. If that is the case, then...

  1. Search Box
    Make sure that you estore layout does contain a "quick search" form in a place that makes sense. If it's not there, some customers may be turned off and walk away. Below we're going to spend a bit of time looking at where that search box should go.

  2. Search Results
    Make sure that your search feature returns relevant search results, offers ways to narrow the search, and provides a friendly way to browse the results. I still see a lot of small business e-commerce tools pay little or no attention to their search feature. Technologies like AJAX can be very helpful in enhancing the search experience (at Early Impact we did a lot of work in this area: try a search on this demo store).

Even if your shopping cart does not have a strong-enough search feature, there are a lot of third-party tools that you can employ to improve the search capabilities of your online store. This will be the topic of another post.

For now, let's focus on the search box. It's such an important piece of your store layout (again, likely 50% of your visitors will use it!), that it deserves a lot of attention. Specifically, where should it go? On the left? On the right? How should it look?

I'm a big, big advocate of learning from people that are very good at what they do. So let's look at how the Top 5 online retailers (according to US online sales) position the search box on their store layouts. You'll see that the result of this bit of research is not what you might have expected.



Office Depot


HP Shopping

Just by looking at these 5, leading retailers, there are a few things that we can learn and apply to all of our stores:

  • Search is definitely key. Each store puts the search box in an extremely visible location. Office Depot even highlights the "Search" button in red.
  • The Search Box is at the TOP. Not in a left or right-side column. It's always at the top.
  • The Search Box can be right at the CENTER. The search box is so key that the top 3 online retailers put it right at the top center. You can't miss it.
  • It's a good idea to write what type of search customers can run (e.g. "Keyword Search" vs. "Keyword and SKU search") right in the input field. That way there are no surprises. You can use simple JavaScript to remove that default text "onFocus" (useful links for this task)

Time to update many of our store layouts :-)