Advice for Amazon: Be Honest with Search Results

July 8, 2015 Dawn Mortensen

Amazon’s practice of misleading customers with search results is again on trial, after the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling on a trademark infringement suit by Multi Time Machine, Inc. (MTM).

Amazon trademark lawsuit by MTMMTM charged Amazon with infringing on its trademark by creating “a likelihood of confusion” when customers search Amazon for “MTM Special Ops Watch,” which is the name of a military-style watch sold by MTM. Amazon uses the MTM Special Ops name multiple times on search results pages, even though they do not sell MTM watches.

Now MTM is entitled to a new trial, or Amazon may try to settle. Either way, it’s time for Amazon to stop fooling its shoppers. Whether they win or lose the case, Amazon should think more about site search best practices that will win loyal customers.

Here’s some advice on how Amazon and other retailers can expertly handle searches that turn up zero results:

  1. Be honest. Search results should never be tricky. The search box is the one area of your site where customers get to tell you exactly what they want. Smart retailers either give customers what they ask for or apologize for not having it. If you mislead customers into looking at other items, they’ll soon realize that you aren’t showing what they want. They’ll feel fooled and will leave frustrated.
  1. Think of the customer experience first. Online businesses depend on repeat customers. You’re not a temporary pop-up shop trying to get quick impulse buys without the concern of having buyers return to your store. When you show customers that you understand what they’re requesting and you’re doing your best to help them find it, it builds lasting respect.
  1. Be smart about merchandising on no-results pages. When you don’t have the specific product or brand that a customer requests, you can still offer alternate items without insulting his or her intelligence. There are a number of possible responses, like “We’re sorry we don’t carry items from that brand, but the following brands are popular with our customers.” In the case of MTM watches, Amazon should state up-front: “We don’t sell MTM watches, but here are similar products you might like.”Sports Authority SLI Systems Site Search
  1. Give suggestions for better search results. Sports Authority handles the no-results page by offering a “Did you mean _____” suggestion, along with the text: “You may have typed your word incorrectly or are being too specific. Try using a broader search phrase or try one of our most popular search phrases,” followed by a word cloud of popular searches.
  1. Reduce the number of no-results pages. Be sure your site search provider includes synonyms and alternate spellings in your search to reduce the number of “no result” searches. After implementing this practice with SLI Systems Learning Search®, Sports Authority saw a 300% reduction in no-results searches.
  1. Study the search terms that end in no results. In its Big Book of Site Search Tips, SLI encourages clients to review their Top No-results Search Report regularly to see what customers look for that does not come up in search results. Paying attention to no-results searches often uncovers opportunities for new items to add to the inventory. It also allows businesses to craft creative responses to a specific no-results result.

Maternity no-results page exampleUK clothing retailer Oasis handles a search for maternity clothes with the message: “Whoops, we’re sorry we don’t cover bumps – shop our accessories instead.”

Beyond potential legal ramifications, Amazon should change the language on its search results pages for the sake of delivering what customers want. Other retailers can follow best practices from the start, and not have to worry about trademark infringement.

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