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Search and Navigation in SAP Commerce Cloud - An In-depth Series

Search and Navigation in SAP Commerce Cloud - An In-depth Series

Search is a primary means of product discovery and should allow your customers to easily find what they are looking for. It is a major part of navigation, that is, the ability to move around the various pages of your storefront(s). In this series of articles, we take a look at search and navigation from both the customer and the business user perspectives as well as from the functional and technical perspectives.

Table of Contents

Navigation

This upstream part of the customer journey should be engaging and informative without being overwhelming. It should encourage customers to use a combination of top navigation, left-hand navigation, facets, breadcrumbs, sorting and search functionality to hone in on the products they need.

Customers need to find what they are looking for before they can make a purchase. Poorly organized search results and unintuitive information architecture can create usability problems, frustrate customers and, most importantly, result in lost sales. Even good stores providing good products may need to optimize their search mechanisms to provide customers with the appropriate result pages. Additionally, the general feeling of an improved online shopping experience may also translate into an increased number of returning visitors and convert them into loyal customers. The Search and Navigation Module helps your customers to browse through the pages of your web store. This can contribute to higher conversions, larger orders, more page views, and fewer complaints from people who use the Search and Navigation features in the SAP Commerce Cloud.

This journey includes:

  • Home Page
  • Category/Brand/Department Landing Page      
    • for the top categories or super-categories
  • Product Listing Page
    • for the lowest sub-category (typically, these are the sub-categories that have Products directly underneath them)
  • Product Detail Page
    • for each product
  • Search Results Page
    • as well as the Partial Results Page and No Results Page
    • because of its similarity to the PLP, it is discussed in the Product Listing Page
  • Header and Footer Navigation
  • Left-hand Navigation
    • this typically takes the form of a vertical panel down the left-hand side of the page, surfacing links to other sub-categories and facets to help customers narrow their selection.
  • Cart and Checkout
    • allowing the customer to purchase selected products

Home Page

The Home Page is a very critical element for the storefront customer journey. It is frequently the first impression that a consumer has of the site and the brand. In addition to impressions, it is also the central navigation point of the site and is used to drive consumers to the desired areas of the site. Therefore, the Home Page content is almost always fully manageable by the marketing managers.

The top part of the Home Page usually contains a banner or rotating carousel which commonly include marketing campaigns, current offers, promotions, new product introduction, seasonal product suggestions, or other timely information. Clicking on the banner will take you to the relevant landing page. Companies that have invested into a personalized shopping experience will leverage those segments to drive specific content to specific target groups.

Other common elements of a Home Page include:

  • Deals of the day/week

    • This section contains the products and/or category which are on discount or sale on that day or specific time period. This is frequently a rotating carousel with the discounted price for a product which takes you to the appropriate product landing page or product detail page. When it's a product category, the discount usually shows price ranges and percentage discount on the products and will take you to the category landing page.

  • Best-selling products/trending products  

    • Based on the selling history and other analytics, this merchandising slot will be populated with products that are the best-selling or most viewed in a particular time range. This is usually driven by a business analytics tool.

    • In addition to trending products, it may also show the seasonal categories with the top selling products. For example, the gift carousel during holiday seasons and air-condition carousel in the summer.

  • More items to consider

    • This may be driven by analytics or could be manually curated to include, for example, all season selling items or the categories which the seller wants to promote at any point in time.

  • Personalized homepage

    • If the customer is logged in on the homepage, then he could see the following sections on the homepage :

      • Recommendations for you – based on the customer’s buying or browsing history. 

      • Recently viewed items – the items which were viewed in past navigation.

      • Inspired by shopping trends – the cross-selling of products which were bought in the recent past.

  • Free shipping/Social connects/Live chat 

    • Free shipping banner containing information on free shipping qualifying parameters and validity period. Sometimes it may point to Free shipping programs currently running in the store. Clicking on the banner will take you to a content page where free shipping plan prices and conditions are detailed.

    • Frequently, there will be a panel to draw the consumer's attention to an online store's social channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, or Instagram. This will help consumers to get in touch with the store through all channels and be kept informed about offers, deals, and product launches. It also helps them to share feedback and get complaints resolved in interactive channels like Facebook and Twitter.

    • The live-chat option requires an integration but can be available on the homepage. It can give customers instant service at any point of time and allows them to interact on products, services and offers. The customer service representatives can help solve queries and issues as well as take feedback on the services, which reduces the number of customer e-mails and calls, helping increase sales and improve customer satisfaction.

  • Loyalty/Membership programs 

    • This section highlights the advantages of customer loyalty programs which also require integrations and custom development. Loyalty rewards incentivize customers to make purchases through free merchandise, rewards, coupons or even advance released products.

Global Navigation

This includes components/pages that are, in general, “universally/globally” visible and accessible throughout the site or from most parts of the site. For example:

  • Global Header
    • Typically, at the top of the page with icons representing the Country/Language Selector, Store Finder, My Account, My Basket and more.
  • Global Footer
    • Typically, the panel going across the bottom with columns for static information like Company Information, About Us, Careers with us, Contact Us and more. Note that the ‘Contact Us’ can be a transactional form/page.
  • Breadcrumbs
    • They show your current location on the site
    • In a keyword search, the Breadcrumbs will show the term searched.
    • On a Search Results Page, the Breadcrumbs will show the category selected, as well as its parent categories.
    • On a Product Detail Page, the Breadcrumbs will show the canonical category of the product as well as that category's parent categories. This can be set in the Product Cockpit or in Backoffice.
  • Top Navigation
    • Contains one or more menus to provide quick access to key pages.
    • Navigation components in the form of a multi-tiered menu structure allow customers one-click access to any category in the selling hierarchy regardless of where the customers ares accessing the menu. These navigation components are present for Browse/Search pages and typically disappear from the Basket Page onwards. See documentation for more.
  • Left-hand Navigation typically shows facets and appears both in a keyword search and a navigation context. Users can create category pages that do not include faceting (as shown in the top-level categories in the Apparel Store), but these refinement options will appear by default on all Search Result and Category pages.

Store Locator

One of the typical components in the header is the Store Locator. It plays a key role in selling across channels. The Store Locator (also known as the Store Finder) is normally used to find the stores near a consumer's location using geolocation or by manually entering the city or postal code. The Store Finder in the header is used to search for stores independently from inventory. You can also search for stores when selecting a product for pickup.

Store information should include location information including address and location on a map. It should also include other useful information such as opening times, store pictures and features of the store. These will need to be loaded into the database.

Search is a key component of a commerce solution. Customers need to find what they are looking for before they can make a purchase. Poorly organized search results and unintuitive information architecture can create usability problems, frustrate customers and, most importantly, result in lost sales. Even good stores providing good products may need to optimize the search mechanisms that provide customers with the appropriate result pages. Additionally, the general feeling of improved online shopping experience achieved through search results tuning may also translate into an increased number of returning visitors and turn them into loyal customers.

Search in the SAP Commerce Cloud is usually delivered through the Solr search engine. Since the Solr engine can be powerfully configured through the backoffice tools, searching can be tuned even after the website is live. A properly-tuned Solr configuration can result in increased performance and a better experience for customers. You can get the best performance out of your search configuration by ensuring that all business and technical users know how to perform Solr-related tasks within the backend tooling.

This page talks about considerations during requirements workshops. Solr features that can be configured even on live storefronts are discussed in the Search Features for Business Users. A discussion of the page that displays the search results is found at Product Listing Page.

Implementation Considerations

When implementing an SAP Commerce Cloud solution, it is important to understand the out-of-the-box features (see "Out-Of-The-Box Standard Features Of Search" section below). The standard functionality within SAP Commerce Cloud should meet most project needs, so as a starting point it is recommended to look at leveraging Solr and then customizing it to meet your specific requirements. Standard features are discussed below. There may be functional gaps specific to an implementation which need to be understood before any customizations are done. Although Solr can be extensively tuned on a live site, it's important to discuss search in detail during the initial requirements gathering phase to ensure expectations can be met. 

The following technical and functional requirements should be reviewed as part of the implementation considerations. This is not a comprehensive list but a starting point for discussions. Knowledge of how to perform these Solr functions is imperative to having an optimized frontend search experience. Solr settings can be fine-tuned within SAP Commerce Cloud, including some within the Solr admin console.

  • Indexing
  • Faceting
  • Failover and Recovery
  • Keyword Search Performance
  • Boosting
  • Boost/Hero Products
  • Synonym Mapping

Implementation Goals

The end goal of any SAP Commerce Cloud solution is to ensure the customer is engaged and Search is an important tool for this engagement. To ensure that the end goal is met, the following goals should be kept in mind :

  • Search performance 
  • Use the recommended practices covered in additional articles (see "Conclusion" below)
  • Maximize end user satisfaction and boost conversion rates

These aspects should be continuously improved upon and to enable continuous improvement, the implementation team should have a good understanding of the following:

  • What is being indexed?
  • Which indexed attributes are being faceted?
  • How are specific fields updated?
  • How to optimize Solr configuration specifically pertaining to data model?
  • How to configure Solr search such as server configuration, caching and faceting?

Out-Of-The-Box Standard Features Of Search 

Keyword searches are commonly used to directly search for products rather than browsing through categories. These searches will search the product catalog and return ranked results. Searches can be configured and customized to meet business requirements. The following features should be well understood and leveraged before implementing any customizations:

  • Full Indexing vs. Partial Indexing
  • Indexing in near Real-Time
  • Automated Index Replication
  • Rich Document Parsing and Indexing
  • Multiple Search Indexes (if you want to index anything besides product, for example, complicated pricing)
  • Server Statistics Logging
  • Automated Failover and Recovery
  • User Extensible Caching
  • Design for High-Volume Traffic
  • Scalability, Flexibility and Extensibility
  • Scoring
  • Adaptive Search and Search Profiles
  • Advanced Full Text Searching
  • Geospatial Searching
  • Solr Queries
  • Load-Balanced Querying

  • Variant Grouping

  • Facets

  • StopWords and Synonyms

  • Query Templates

The Solr Engine 

Apache Solr is an open source search platform built upon a Java library called Lucene. Solr is a popular search platform for Web sites because it can index and search multiple sites and return recommendations for relevant content based on the search query’s taxonomy. Solr is an enterprise-level search engine that natively supports multi-country, multi-language, and multi-currency, the same way SAP Commerce Cloud does. Solr is a scalable solution, and SAP Commerce Cloud adds business user tooling on top of its existing functionality and interfaces.

Solr offers APIs for JSON, Ruby, and Python. Solr, as it is open source, does not require a license.

Solr search is based on Lucene, which uses a scoring algorithm to narrow down search results. Solr syntax and scoring are discussed here and here.

Version Compatibility

If you're managing your Solr Infrastructure, the version of Solr available depends on what version of SAP Commerce you are on. If you are going to upgrade, you may need to upgrade Solr (depending on which version you are coming from/going to). Upgrade discussions should always consider what it means for Solr.

Depending on the current release version, there can be several versions of Apache Solr server involved. The following table provides a quick compatibility overview. You can also check the Third Party Compatibility page for your version.

SAP Commerce version Apache Solr Server
up to 4.4 1.4
4.5 3.4
4.6, 4.7, 4.8 3.5
5.0.0 3.6
5.1.0 4.5
5.1.1 - 5.6.0 4.6.1
5.7

5.3,

4.6.1 (with legacy mode set to true)

6.2 6.1 **
6.3 6.1 **
6.4

6.4.x* and **

6.5 6.4.x* and **
6.6 7.1.x*
6.7 7.2
1808

7.4

7.5 *

1811 7.5


*: x indicates the version with backward compatibility bug fixes

**: indicates that the Solr version should be upgraded to version 7.1.x due to CVE-2017-12629

Conclusion

For more information on Search and Navigation topics, please read the remaining articles in this series: