Help consumers buy confidently with a product finder

May 17, 2018
A good salesperson helps customers make a purchase with confidence. Unfortunately, most online stores don't provide guidance like this. In this article, we offer tips for designing a scalable solution to this problem: the product finder.

Who's the Salesperson in your Online Store?

Your online store probably doesn't have a salesperson. And that's not a completely bad thing. Nothing makes me turn tail and run faster than a bad salesperson—pushy, dull, uncaring.

But considering the worst possible sales experience isn't fair to the profession of sales. Consider the experience a good salesperson provides:

  • First, they listen to customer needs and ask good questions.
  • Then, they lay out the options available, educating their potential client on the possibilities.
  • Lastly, they make a compelling case for what solution or product is going to work best and why.

In short, they instill confidence and motivate a purchase.

Most online merchants leave customers to wander their digital aisles alone, reading product descriptions and drawing conclusions themselves. Not the most confidence building experience—particularly for a new customer who's unfamiliar with a product line!

Enter The Product Finder

Often presented as a series of multiple choice questions, product finders listen to customer needs and make personal recommendations, much like a good salesperson. They're the perfect thing to help a new customer feel confident with their first purchase.

A screen from the excellent product finder at Helix Mattress.

Just like an in-store salesperson, a good product finder personalizes the shopping experience, sells product, and instills confidence. It does this by:

  • Asking questions and explaining why those questions are important to selecting the right product.
  • Understanding the customer’s unique needs, and echoing those needs back so the customer knows they've been heard.
  • Explaining how someone's answers affected the recommended products, helping customers understand why it's right for them.

Three Key Features of a Great Product Finder

Here are some fundamentals for making sure your product finder does its job.

Pick Questions That Provide Insights—For You and Your Customer

It's clear your questions need to help you understand the customer so you can make confident product recommendations to them. What's less obvious is that a lot of the time, customers themselves aren't clear on what they're looking for! They just don't know the right questions to ask.

Good questions help customers understand the overall product environment, enabling them to make a more informed, confident decision.

If I was interested in a backpack, what might be important to me? Do I need a bag that can carry my laptop, or something to fit a week's supplies in? Am I going to be carrying lots of small things, and need compartments in the bag? Will I be trekking through the rain, or is this more of a daybag for city excursions? Surfacing each of these questions provides insight to you, and helps coach customers about what's important to think about—without them needing to think about it themselves! Pretty nice.

To design good questions, it's helpful to imagine yourself as a salesperson talking to a customer in person. What are the most important questions to ask them? What would they ask you? Why? What don't they know that would help them make a better decision?

Working directly with your customer service and sales teams can be extremely helpful in coming up with relevant questions here. You know they've heard it all.

Even though the questions need to be insightful, don't forget the personality! Questions don't need to sound clinical to produce insights. Plus, injecting personality into the questions can help customers decide if your brand is right for them. An important consideration for many.

Help Customers be Confident Giving Subjective Answers

Sometimes you need to ask subjective questions to provide a good recommendation. Questions about personal taste always require some kind of common ground, and that can be hard to establish online.

When a waiter asks if I like spicy food, we'll generally have a quick back and forth to establish how our definitions of "spicy" compare. Then I can feel more comfortable that my answer will be understood and my spicy chicken tikka won't be too hot.

It's a bit harder to have that banter online.

We can overcome that by identifying the more subjective questions and setting the context up front. If I was ordering food online and next to a question about how spicy I like my food there was an additional clarification—"We live for the ghost pepper."—I'd know to mark 3 out of 10 chilies on that question.

When Recommending Products, Explain Why

So you've got a good read on who your customer is by this point. Good enough to give a solid recommendation. But are you giving the customer a reason to be confident in your suggestion?

Customers need to understand how you arrived at your conclusion. Parrot their answers back and explain how they influenced the products they see. What factors did you consider? How do these products fulfill on their needs?

Additional information helps customers learn about your product space and where they fit in it—crucial for repeat purchases. It also demonstrates your expertise, attention to detail, and ability to listen.

With well-picked questions, the reasoning for a product recommendation should resonate with customers. It would be a shame not to share that with them.

Wrapping Up

There's definitely nuance and skill involved in applying these product finder guidelines to a specific product. You'll also need to consider everything from a brand-specific perspective too. But as long as your focus is on delighting customers with a great experience and keeping the fundamentals above in mind, you probably won't go too far afield.

Drumroll please... It's time for the obligatory pitch! If you sell unique or complex products and want some help showing them in their best light, you should definitely give us a ring!

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