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How to enhance product discovery in ecommerce

In 2021, it’s safe to say that ecommerce has nailed many fundamental parts of the shopping experience: Convenience, flexibility, and customer-centric shopping journeys. It’s little wonder that ecommerce forecasts are for $933.30 billion in sales for 2021 – including $206.88 billion this holiday season alone.

Yet there’s one area no digitally native brand has mastered: The subtle art of product discovery.

Let’s say that you walk into a retail store intending to buy a specific product. However, there’s every chance you’ll end up purchasing something else as well (we’re looking at you, Target).

This is because retail stores are extremely clever at grabbing our attention with attractive displays and activations, turning every visit into an opportunity for consumers to explore (and buy) something new.

In fact, 70% of customers rank the ability to try, touch, and see physical products as their favorite part of the in-store experience. With more brands investing heavily in experiential retail ventures, this is set to be a powerful drawcard in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ecommerce has come a long way in streamlining the shopping experience to make buying online easier, such using augmented reality to enable consumers to ‘try on’ garments and the rising popularity of video shopping consultations. But opportunities for organic product discovery remain limited.

Why? Because ecommerce and brick and mortar offer two very different approaches to retail. Ecommerce is where we go to buy, while brick and mortar is where we go to shop.

The difference is subtle, but incredibly important. Amazon has built its empire on the back of offering us a seamless way to impulse buy whatever jumps into our heads – not by exposing us to stuff that we never considered purchasing in the first place.

Why? Because every ecommerce shopping journey starts with a search term. The sheer number of products available online can be overwhelming, meaning we have start narrowing down our options from the start. But once we hits ‘enter’, product discovery opportunities become limited. Web browsers like Google are increasingly designed to match search intent as closely as possible. This is excellent for buying – but terrible for shopping.

This begs the question: Is truly spontaneous product discovery possible in ecommerce?

The answer is yes – if you have the right technology and selling channels on your side.

3 Strategies to improve product discovery at your online store

Social commerce

Social media has long been one of consumers’ favorite tools when it comes to discovering new brands and products. According to a survey by Statista conducted this past July, 58% of millennials and 54% of Gen Z believe that social media platforms are better for finding products than online searches.

So, what makes social media such a great place to discover products? Unlike online search, social media algorithms are designed to keep things fresh and interesting by throwing new brands or creatives into your feed, in addition to accounts you already follow. This create extremely fertile ground for consumers to be inspired by new trends and ideas.

Social commerce takes this one step further by enabling consumers to discover new products and also make purchase them within the same session. In-app purchasing functionalities remove the friction involved with having to navigate to merchant’s ecommerce store to find the right products, allowing you to boost conversions more much effectively.

Enhanced search functionality

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a search bar that appears to have no idea what we’re looking for. A key reason for this is that there’s a big gap between how most consumers browse for products and how search engines on ecommerce websites are configured.

For example, many purchases that consumers to make are occasion-based. We might want to buy a new coat for the Winter, or a birthday present for a friend. Yet many search functionalities aren’t designed to recognize these terms. According to a study the Baynard Institute, just 54% of search engines recognize thematic queries, while 61% require users to use exact search terms e.g. ‘sneaker’ instead of ‘sports shoe’ in order to pull up relevant results.

Naturally, these limitations can make product discovery frustrating or downright impossible for consumers. It’s important to make sure that your own search tool enables these kinds of searches, as well as allowing consumers to use common filtering words such as colors, pricing, and brands to give them relevant product suggestions.


By controlling the end-to-end shopping process, digitally-native brands have a competitive edge in this area; they’ve accumulated vast amount of data from touchpoints across the customer journey to build a picture of what their customers are most interested in. But actually putting this data to use is another thing entirely.

Personalized recommendations are a tough balance to strike; offerings need to be relevant without becoming too limited. Target is a great example of a brand who has leveraged loyalty rewards data to launch an entirely new program based on personalized offerings.

Target Circle uses perks such as birthday rewards to access valuable demographic data. When combined with purchasing history, this enables them to offer customized discounts and suggestions for the product categories that consumers access the most, allowing them to access better product discovery opportunities the longer they use the program.

By building longevity into the system, Target Circle gives its customers a vested interest to continue shopping with them. It creates profitable feedback loop where more purchase means more product discovery – and on and on it goes.

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