As an engineer, you understand that one of the biggest advantages in the design process is choice. Just a decade ago, you were probably limited in terms of what was actually available in a store of your choosing. Maybe you were lucky enough to come in contact with a supplier. Still, it didn’t really feel like a strategic decision on which part to use. Rather, you settled for what was available.

In today’s digital space, we have an abundance of choices and we can specify the smallest details, which comes with its own set of issues. And product distributors know this; the more choices you have, the higher the tendency of that perfect part to get buried in a mountain of second-rate options.

This is where technical search comes in. The right design, functionality, and experience can greatly influence how half-interested visitors become loyal customers. Let’s look at how some of the biggest product distributors in the electronics industry make it easier for their customers to find just what they’re looking for.

The Search Bar

In research conducted about user first impressions, it takes only 50 milliseconds for an average user to make a decision regarding whether they want to use your website. It seems a bit obvious, but the placement of the search bar plays a significant role in influencing what a user does next. Visual cues matter and users have dozens of choices about the content of the website itself and whether or not to use this particular website in the first place.

The overall architecture of the website and how navigation and search are positioned make a significant difference in how users interact with the site. From research conducted by Pew Research Center on the usage of search engines, searching has stayed at the top of internet activities. Half of all respondents say they use search engines at least once a day, while a vast majority (86%) report it to be a positive learning experience. This is why most successful websites need to bank on the first steps of the buyer’s journey and provide options to address the users’ needs.

Call to Action

If the search bar is the doorway, call to actions are the signposts. They are important indicators and can be considered as a subtle nudge to the user on what to do next. A mere 0.05 seconds is not a lot of time to present your case, but coupling visual cues with clear language makes it easier for the user to be engaged.

Call to actions in search can be as simple as “search the site” or offer more description, like “search from millions of products.” It could even be suggestive, like “search for part number”. There isn’t a definitive guideline for CTAs, but the important thing is to convey the message of what can be done.

Autocomplete

Now that we have the user engaged and actually using the search engine, one of the most useful features being implemented is autocomplete. Generating real-time suggestions as the user is typing is an amazing way to add value.

Not only does it cut time, it also provides support that might not be readily evident. When a website has a properly implemented and advanced autocomplete feature, it promotes further exploration to related products, self-correction in spelling, and may even fill in the gaps in cases where a user only has a vague idea of what they’re searching for. In some cases, if we’re talking about part numbers, a user may only have a generic part. Having autocomplete can show the variety that the distributor actually carries. In addition to encouraging further inquiry, it also serves as a sort of assurance that the distributor has the product and related alternatives in inventory. The goal here is to provide quick, relevant, and intuitive information to the user and a well designed autocomplete takes the experience one level higher.

Parametric Search

In the simplest of terms, parametric search employs multiple filters to find the product that best fits all considerations. It works like a reverse engineering of how a search should be; instead of knowing what you're looking for, parametric search uses your requirements and presents a list of possible options.

This is essential in the design process since that’s exactly where we begin; determining what the project needs in terms of specifications and then finding that perfect product that fits the bill. As a tool, parametric search allows for excellent navigation for the user as it provides contextual information that can be adjusted where necessary. In a multi parameter search, the user can keep the most important attributes and fine tune options where we can have a bit more leeway.

As good as that sounds, parametric search can be a double-edged sword as it may be too intimidating, or worse, when poorly designed, the reason a user gets frustrated and leaves. Depending on the product a user may be looking for, the filters can range from a few fields to a full dozen with more options within options. The better the design, the more intuitive and organized the layout is, the higher the chance of the experience being pleasant for the user. A distributor might deploy one that is the most complete, most advanced search there is but if no one understands how to use it, then what’s the point? Of course, there will always be a learning curve as it is still a sophisticated tool, but it should be that the tool works with the user rather than against them.

Distributors with parametric search allow for users to comb through the data and highlight what’s important and what can be disregarded. Looking at the websites of industry leaders, you’ll find yourself face to face with these tools, and it would be in your best interest to get familiar with them.

Distributors hold thousands of pieces of information. For every user, buried within that data mine is the perfect product. The objective is to make it as easy as possible for that user to find his match. Search sits at the heart of the user experience. Being able to navigate through the data in a way that is straightforward yet concise, effortless yet accurate, and instinctive all the while being a highly technical piece of technology serves in the interest of providing and, ultimately, arriving at the right choice.

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