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How The North Face uses voice search to drive mcommerce sales

Outdoor gear and apparel retailer The North Face continues to see strong results from its use of natural language and voice-enabled search, helping its sites across mobile and desktop in several European counties to deliver a 35 percent increase in search conversion rate and 24 percent increase in revenue from search.

As mobile use continues to grow, consumers are increasingly looking for streamlined on-site search experiences from their smartphone, which natural language and voice capabilities can provide. The North Face introduced the enhanced search capabilities on its sites in the United States and Canada in late 2012 and to the European sites in the summer of 2013.

“In the mobile world, you’ve got very limited screen space,” John Morrell, vice president of product marketing at EasyAsk, Burlington, MA. “You are trying to allow the user to put in a search as easily as possible, that is where voice comes in – you can just press the search box and input a search via their voice.

“It is not just about voice but also natural language, which enables you to get a very accurate response back and be able to effectively utilize that screen space,” he said.

“What you don’t want is keyword search, like the term ‘jacket.’ You put that in and you are going to get potentially hundreds of responses. You don’t want that on a mobile device – it is hard to scroll through all of those and sift through those to find what you are looking for.”

The North Face is a division of VF Outdoor that sells outdoor gear and apparel through specialty and sporting goods retailers as well as via its own branded ecommerce sites on desktop, tablet and mobile.

Voice-enabled search
Voice-enabled on-site search makes sense on mobile because users are familiar with speaking into their smartphones. The small screen sizes of smartphones also makes voice search more desirable as keying in search terms can be difficult.

For on-the-go users who may be trying to find something quickly, natural language search means they can quickly and easily find what they are looking for without having to use a general keyword and then have to scroll through a lot of unrelated results.

The North Face uses the EasyAsk ask solution to enhance its on-site search capabilities. EasyAsk has been deployed across 11 sites in nine countries, including Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain and Austria.

More descriptive
As a result, visitors to these sites can use specific terms for what they are looking for in their local language as opposed to using traditional keyword search.

The idea is to let customers search based on the product concept they are thinking about, such as “warm winter jacket.” This enables searchers to see results that are more relevant.

For customers searching from a smartphone that has voice search capabilities, they can click on the search box and then on the microphone on their phone to speak their query.

The North Face is also able to monitor what customers are searching for, which helps the retailer continuously fine-tune its natural language search with more product concepts.

“Natural language gives the visitor the ability to enter far more descriptive search queries and gives the site the ability to support a broader variety of searches,” Mr. Morrell said. “On a mobile device that becomes even more important because of screen real estate.

“It is helping The North Face build their mobile commerce business,” he said.