ecommerce autocomplete - woman shopping online

5 Reasons Why Ecommerce Autocomplete is Important

The ability to shop online from anywhere is undoubtedly a sliced-bread-level innovation. It gives consumers near limitless choice for everything from groceries to electronics to birdseed. For retailers, online shopping can vastly expand your customer base by presenting your brand and products to literally anyone with an internet connection.

But with great reach and convenience, come equally great challenges. In 2023, the Baymard Institute collected shopping cart abandonment stats from 49 sources. The meta statistic from this exercise revealed that the online cart abandonment rate is, on average, about 70%. 

Usability plays a huge role in whether someone completes an online sale. At the top of the usability checklist? Your website or app’s product search function. Being able to find relevant products quickly can make or break a sale. In this post, we’ll look at a specific function of online shopping that has become an incredibly important UX essential – ecommerce autocomplete.

What is Ecommerce Autocomplete?

Ecommerce autocomplete is the retail version of finishing a user’s sentence, but in a good way. Autocomplete technology, powered by AI, suggests different keyword possibilities as you type a query into the search field. It may also recommend products and content, often as a user is still typing. It’s a feature that goes by different names including auto-suggest, search-as-you-type, and type-ahead. It manifests in different ways, depending on where you’re searching or what app you’re using.

Ecommerce autocomplete often includes predictive search capabilities, meaning it goes beyond suggesting text-based queries in the search box. It can analyze the text a shopper uses and provide a list of options like product thumbnails beneath the search bar. This takes the shopper directly from the search bar to a product page, and is a great way to get them in a buying mindset.

On a retailer website, ecommerce autocomplete is typically connected to the product catalog and inventory management database. For example, when a shopper types the word “blue” on Amazon, the search field suggests products like “bluetooth speaker” and “bluetooth headphones.” As they add more keywords to the query, Amazon revises its autocomplete suggestions, so “blue jacket” becomes “blue jacket women” and “blue jacket for boys.”

How does Ecommerce Autocomplete Work?

Autocomplete uses AI to make appropriate suggestions as you type a query into the search field of a web site or app. This includes ML algorithms to analyze various data points like a user’s search history and geolocation and learning models that connect the searcher’s query to other data. 

This can include common or popular search terms, semantic relevance of associated products and terms, and contextual information that considers query semantics and user intent. It may also tap into your customer data, so when a shopper is logged in, it draws on their user data (search history, purchases, etc.) to make autocomplete suggestions. 

The system can understand the context of the query by using natural language processing, another AI approach, that’s trained on huge amounts of data which is used to help the system recognize patterns and context. This process is continuous and gets more accurate with additional data (e.g., it learns over time). This is how autocomplete can present relevant suggestions in real time. These suggestions will likely include additional keywords like synonyms or semantically-related terms, personalized recommendations, and popular or trending items. 

Here’s an example: entering the word “fleece” into a popular outdoor gear and apparel retailer conjures the following autocomplete suggestions:

  • girls fleece-lined leggings
  • CVC fleece-lined sweatshirt
  • big boys fleece joggers

In addition to specific product suggestions, the autocomplete presents category-specific suggestions including:

  • Men’s fleece jackets
  • Women’s fleece jackets

The suggestions help shoppers find products more quickly, but they can also spark inspiration by showing shoppers available inventory, popular items, and categories they may not have considered.

Why is Ecommerce Autocomplete Essential for My Business?

Autocomplete has many benefits for customers and retailers, with the primary goal that it works to improve sales and reduce shopping cart abandonment. It’s just a better overall online shopping experience. No one likes doing a search only to come back with irrelevant or blank results. 

But ecommerce autocomplete is about much more than usability – it offers tangible benefits that can reduce customer frustration and increase sales. 

The Baymard Institute’s research uncovered over 700 search-specific usability issues across 19 leading ecommerce websites. Poor usability, particularly when it comes to searching for products, creates a huge roadblock for shoppers. Things like poor handling of typos, irrelevant search results, and an absence of filtering options can be overwhelming and frustrating. 

Ecommerce autocomplete helps alleviate UX issues on retail websites. Here are the top 5 reasons integrating this function into your ecommerce website is important:

1. It increases sales and helps reduce shopping cart abandonment

Autocomplete helps shoppers find products they love, even when the results aren’t an exact match with their query. This gives the shopper a starting point. It also reduces “zero result” searches which can reduce shopper confidence that you’ll have what they need (imagine going into Target for a specific product and encountering an aisle of empty shelves).  

By suggesting relevant categories, listing multiple products, and presenting items that are likely to resonate with the searcher and the search terms, autocomplete makes it much easier for a shopper to find relevant items. For example, “rustic flower pot” could be appropriately matched with “distressed flower pot” or “terracotta planter”. It could also be paired with complimentary items – a cottage core watering can or hand-carved garden décor.  

Autocomplete suggestions act as a guide, directing shoppers to popular or relevant products.  This is a subtle but effective way to encourage visitors to dig more deeply into your product catalog. It’s also unobtrusive. It lets you cross-sell or upsell products in an intuitive way, presenting relevant items to people as they shop. 

2. It improves UX, particularly on mobile

People type less when autocomplete is present – up to 25% less according to one study. Fewer keystrokes mean fewer errors and less time spent typing overall. This is particularly important on mobile devices, where smaller screens and touch interfaces make it more difficult to type and much easier to make mistakes. Autocomplete also helps shoppers avoid spelling errors, plus it provides a straightforward way for users to navigate to specific product or category pages. 

Reducing “zero result” searches is another way that autocomplete improves user experience. It’s frustrating when you can’t find what you need and annoying to perform multiple searches and still come up empty. When a shopper sees relevant results, even when they don’t exactly match their search query, they’re more likely to stick around and explore different items and categories. 

3. It acts like a de facto customer service agent

Autocomplete can direct customers to appropriate non-product-related information like shipping, returns, and store hours. It can also help returning customers by connecting them to saved information like payment and shipping details. Since autocomplete suggestions can be tailored to user location, language, and search history, it’s an effective way to customize and personalize shopping experiences.

But the big takeaway, when it comes to elevating customer service, is that autocomplete improves shoppers’ confidence by helping them find (relevant) items quickly.  It’s just a more satisfying experience overall. It reduces friction and overwhelm while providing needed support. 

4. It uncovers new opportunities for retailers 

Autocomplete isn’t just for customers, it’s also incredibly beneficial for you, the retailer. The data from searches gives you a powerful window into emerging trends, popular items, and areas where your website or catalog need work. Each interaction a customer has with the autocomplete feature gives you more insight into customer behavior, interest, and trends. 

Aggregating and studying this data can help inform business decisions, marketing strategies, and uncover opportunities. If certain products or categories begin appearing more frequently in search queries, it could signal a rising trend or shift in customer preferences. Recognizing these patterns early keeps you competitive – and aligned with what your customers want. 

5. It helps you manage inventory 

Autocomplete is a great tool for merchandising and inventory management. By connecting it to real-time inventory levels, you can present search results that make the most sense based on stock availability, item popularity, season, and more. You can prioritize items in search results, for example, to move them more quickly. 

It’s also a good tool for switching gears after a sale or season ends. End-of-lifecycle or seasonal items with limited availability can be deprioritized, with autocomplete suggestions guiding shoppers to explore other items or categories. This helps reduce zero results searches, “out of stock” results and keeps your customers engaged by presenting similar items for their consideration.

How can Personalized Search Improve Commerce Customer Experiences?

Providing a seamless online shopping experience is every retailer’s goal, but it’s almost impossible to do this without powerful search functionality. Ecommerce autocomplete is mandatory for any retailer with an ecommerce presence. Online search experiences can be frustrating and disappointing, or they can be viewed as an opportunity – a guide, a starting point, a way to gather valuable insights about what your customers want in real time. 

Search autocomplete is also a subtle tool for enabling cross-selling and upselling, while allowing you to manage inventory and take advantage of trends that fuel sales and meet customer needs. 

Monetate’s personalization platform combines personalized search capabilities that leverage AI and machine learning. Our platform turns product search into a hyper-customized, curated shopping experience for each shopper. Check out our customer success stories to see how our clients leverage personalization to improve UX and CX or reach out to schedule an individualized demo.