Clouds at Shoreline

The cloud has elevated site search to a better place

Clouds near Shoreline Park

 

There was a time when it made sense to keep all your vinyl LPs on the bookshelf in the living room.

They were near your record player. You could impress your guests with your eclectic musical collection on display, while diverting attention from your lack of actual books. But then came CDs and MP3s and iTunes, the iPhone and Spotify and Pandora — and keeping your tunes in the cloud made a lot more sense.

And there was a time when it made sense for e-commerce retailers to keep the technology and infrastructure that ran their site search engines in a big server room down the hall, churning away day and night.

But then came the cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) and the ability to gather, process and store vast amounts of data — along with the agility to improve and upgrade systems on a moment’s notice and have those improvements wash across an entire digital enterprise with a software upgrade.

If you’re a retailer today, hosting your search engine on premise simply doesn’t make sense — as the rapid migration of so many enterprises to the cloud indicates.

It’s not that you can’t find an on-premise system anymore. Oracle offers a venerable one in Endeca, a powerful engine that was a leader in its time. In fact, Endeca, which was founded as Optigrab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1999, was a pioneer in faceted search.

Site search webinar

Nearly two decades later, Endeca relies on a legacy sales model in which a retailer buys a long-term license for the site search software, pays for the hardware to run it, pays regular maintenance fees, runs the system (or pays someone else to), waits for innovations to be written into new versions of the software and often pays to develop its own add-on or complementary features when it sees gaps to fill.

For a large retailer, BloomReach research found, owning a legacy system like Endeca could easily cost well over $700,000 a year — and that’s after an initial licensing price tag approaching $2 million. For smaller customers, the cost is less, of course. But even the smallest Endeca customers will face annual ongoing maintenance costs well over $150,000.

The site search you choose can make a big difference

And while money — and the ability to realize a return on that kind of investment — is always important, there are other considerations when it comes to site search. In short, site search decisions have consequences.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of high-quality site search for an organization that does business on the web. eConsultancy has said that up to 30 percent of consumers use site search. And those consumers are among an enterprise’s most valuable customers, given their higher propensity to convert. On the flip side, consumers who get no results for their site search queries are three times more likely to leave a site than are others.

As the transformation of the digital age continues apace, keeping up with and taking advantage of site search innovations as they happen is crucial, Richard Isaac, of RealDecoy, said in December during a BloomReach-hosted webinar about improving site search.

“Innovation in retail isn’t about that one big idea that transforms,” said Isaac, whose company provides business technology services. “It’s about making small, incremental improvements that can be measured over time and add up to something great.”

Think about the differences between a cloud-based system and one that a business maintains onsite. BloomReach and its e-commerce customers recently finished a successful holiday season that saw days on which e-commerce traffic spiked at three times its typical volume. BloomReach’s cloud-based system allowed the company to scale up pre-emptively and return to normal configurations when traffic returned to normal.

Cloud-based site search provides performance and nimbleness

On-premise systems provide no such luxury. An onsite system needs to be built out to handle peak traffic, meaning purchasing and maintaining the necessary servers and memory and investing the additional IT resources and paying for the additional electricity — and presumably being chronically over-provisioned during most of the year when holiday peaks are nowhere to be seen.

Even Oracle, which sells Endeca, sees cloud-based platforms as the future of commerce. As Ian Davis, senior director of product management at Oracle, said of the SaaS model in an OracleVoice piece published in Forbes:

“It’s a very attractive model for retailers and consumer brands because of the amount of heartache and pain that are taken away from them by the SaaS model.”

The SaaS model, it turns out, is attractive to another constituency, too: The hard-to-get top tech talent that’s required to run a digital business, no matter how its infrastructure is hosted.

Staples, the No. 5 retailer on the Internet Retailer 500, recently moved from an on-premise site search system to BloomReach’s Commerce Search. Among the many advantages of a cloud-based system that executives cited is the positive message moving to the cloud sends to prospective employees — software architects and others who are interested in working on cutting-edge projects rather than on the technology of the past.

There is nothing wrong with being nostalgic for the past, of course. Especially when it comes to things like vinyl records and old stereos. It’s just not the sort of impulse you want guiding you as you contemplate your business’ digital future.

Interested in hearing more about building better site search? Join us for “Three site search moves helping your competition sleep at night” on March 30.

Photo of clouds by Mike Cassidy.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.