Key Challenges in Choosing a Third-Party E-commerce Site Search Tool (According to Public User Reviews)

To stay competitive and take advantage of the latest on-site search technology, many E-commerce sites are turning to third-party search solutions. This can help take their store’s search capabilities to the next level and take pressure off their developers.

However, when working with third party providers, you need to be aware if they have any weaknesses or limitations, so you can choose the best fitting one for your business.  

In this article, we’ve gathered some of the commonly recognized disadvantages that retailers have highlighted to help you better evaluate onsite search providers. 

Issues with E-commerce site search highlight illustration

Importance of E-commerce site search


Site search serves as the way through which consumers navigate vast product catalogs, seeking the perfect item to meet their needs on Ecommerce sites. A great search experience can be the difference between a satisfied customer swiftly finding what they seek and a frustrated user abandoning their shopping journey.

With Jon MacDonald’s famous words from The Good:

“If you’ve been treating on-site search as a necessary function, rather than as one of the most powerful revenue-generating tools in your arsenal, I have three words for you: Please stop that.

In a previous article, we delved into the essential features necessary for an E-commerce search engine to provide your shoppers with the best experience possible. From intuitive autocomplete and typo correction to advanced filtering options and personalized recommendations, these features are paramount in meeting the evolving expectations of today’s online consumers. You can find this comprehensive guide here.

Why would e-tailers choose third-party site search tools?


Many online stores now opt for search solutions developed by third-party providers rather than investing in developing their own. The main advantages of this approach are the following:

Less effort, more expertise


Specialized search companies are typically more knowledgeable about the latest technologies and can leverage their expertise to offer enhanced search functionality for their partners’ stores. They typically offer pre-built solutions with latest tech or easy-to-implement APIs that can be integrated seamlessly with existing platforms, minimizing development time and effort.

Outsourcing site search to a third-party provider this way allows online retailers to focus on their core competencies, such as product development, marketing, and customer service, rather than diverting resources to non-core activities like search engine development.

Advanced technologies


Third-party providers continuously innovate and integrate advanced features and technologies into their site search solutions, such as

  • AI-powered search algorithms
  • Natural Language Processing
  • Personalization, and
  • Voice search capabilities.

These features enhance the user experience and drive better conversion rates. Vector search, for example, is the latest technology in search that goes beyond looking for matches in keywords, and understands context. 

Machine learning-based solutions can offer users a whole another level of personalization, be it by recommendations or smart search results (e.g. returning women’s shorts if the user had been browsing women’s clothing previously).

Developing and maintaining such advanced capabilities in-house requires significant investment in research and development.

Merchandizing


As Shopify found, many e-tailers look for a third-party search solution because their own setup does not offer advanced merchandizing features. Having the ability to re-rank search results and promote the products with the highest margin is an essential capability for retailers.

Most third-party providers bring a wealth of specialized expertise, advanced technology, and industry insights to the table, making them valuable partners for retailers looking to elevate their merchandizing strategies and drive revenue growth. 

In 2024, amongst the most known E-commerce search providers are Algolia, Klevu, DooFinder, Constructor and Luigi’s Box. 

While third-party providers undoubtedly offer compelling advantages, it’s crucial for retailers to conduct a comprehensive evaluation before integrating these solutions into their E-commerce platforms in order to make sure their criteria will be met.

Challenges with third-party E-commerce Site Search Tools According to Public User Reviews


Without further ado, let’s delve into the intricacies that retailers encounter while navigating the quest for the perfect search solution.

User Interface / User Experience (UI/UX)


While third-party search solutions offer a range of features, they may not fully align with the specific needs or branding of every online retailer. Customization options might be limited, which could impact the seamless integration of the search function with the overall website design and user experience. For example, retailers may be unable to fine-tune search rankings or adjust filtering options to reflect specific product attributes or customer preferences.

It’s also common that some customization options are available, but require developer effort from the retailer’s side. This goes against the idea that search providers should take weight off retailers’ shoulders, so they can focus their efforts into other areas. 

So, if you don’t have a large development team with capacity to work on your search customization, be sure to avoid choosing a third party solution that comes with these possible limitations.

Several users of the biggest Finnish site search provider, for example, consider the limited customization options for the search results layout, and the time needed for styling their store to match the search pages with the rest, as a disadvantage.

Usability


It’s imperative for third-party search providers to prioritize user-centric design principles, streamline on-boarding processes, and offer intuitive interfaces that empower retailers to efficiently configure and manage their search functionalities.

Retailers often face a learning curve when integrating and configuring third-party search solutions, compounded by the lack of comprehensive documentation or user-friendly interfaces.

Complicating matters further, certain settings may only be adjustable with the assistance of the provider, leading to potential delays and frustrations in fine-tuning the search experience.

Accuracy and Relevance Problems


While returning the most relevant results for a search query is a basic functionality of site search engines, achieving this consistently can be challenging.

Third-party site search solutions often come with advanced search algorithms and functionalities with features like autocomplete, typo correction, and faceted search, which help users find products more easily and quickly. However, some of them may struggle with accuracy and relevance due to limitations in their algorithms or indexing methods.

Without advanced technologies like Natural Language Processing (NLP) and vector search, these solutions may rely solely on keyword matching, leading to inaccurate or irrelevant results, especially for complex or ambiguous queries.

E.g. some of the biggest providers’ solutions still return inaccurate results sometimes, based on customer reviews.

To make sure your search always returns relevant results, choose a third-party provider that stays on top of technological advancements and leverages the latest search technology.

Issues with Integration and Technical Requirements


Ensuring seamless integration of third-party search with the existing systems and platforms of the retailer is crucial for maintaining operational efficiency and providing a consistent user experience.

Sometimes however, compatibility issues, API documentation clarity, and ongoing maintenance requirements may pose challenges for the retailer’s development team. 

Some of the users of a globally known enterprise search provider, for example, find that the complexity of their features, and the need for developers in the integration phase takes away from the user experience (“It’s hard to know what you can/can’t do. No applied examples of how to use features, makes it hard to test and implement.”)

Similarly, a Finland-based provider’s reviewers mention that the non-seamless integration of the search solution may make it feel like the landing pages come from a connected system and stand out from the rest. 

These kinds of issues, partnered with limited technical documentation and lack of compatibility with the retailer’s existing platforms can be quite a let-down in the retailer’s user experience, which is why these are factors to be aware of before making a decision about a search provider.

On the positive side, many providers offer comprehensive support and resources to facilitate seamless integration processes.

Insufficient Speed


Delays in indexing frequency and slow updates to product databases can negatively impact the speed and accuracy of search results. This can result in customer frustration for and lost sales opportunities for retailers. Improving indexing frequency and optimizing search result speed should be a priority for third-party search providers to enhance overall performance.

Weak Analytics Functionality


Access to user-friendly dashboards and robust search analytics are essential for retailers to gain valuable insights into customer behavior and preferences. Monitoring user search behavior, including autocomplete queries, can offer valuable insights into undiscovered content or tasks on your website.

However, some third-party search providers may fall short in providing predictive analytics and actionable insights, leaving retailers without the tools necessary to make informed decisions and drive business growth.

Some of the retailers using a known American search provider’s solution, e.g., mention having to work with a less than user-friendly analytics dashboard, but also give credit to their helpful support team, and their readiness to get the best out of every situation as a mean of compensation.

Customer Support


Effective and responsive consumer support is critical for retailers relying on third-party search providers to address issues and optimize performance. However, it’s not uncommon for some providers to struggle in delivering timely assistance, which can result in frustration and dissatisfaction among retailers.

While providing extensive technical documentation is undoubtedly valuable, it alone is not a sufficient form of support. Retailers often require personalized guidance, troubleshooting assistance, and proactive communication to resolve issues efficiently and ensure optimal performance of the search solution.

Wrap up


All in all, choosing a third-party E-commerce site search tool allows retailers to leverage specialized expertise, advanced features, scalability, and cost-effectiveness to enhance the search experience for their customers and drive business growth.

However, it’s worth noting that challenges may arise depending on the chosen provider, such as usability and customization issues, limited search analytics, and integration and support concerns. Given the framework of your team and the objectives of your company, it’s crucial to assess providers with the potential issues discussed above. This evaluation will enable you to identify the search solution that aligns most effectively with your needs and company goals.

Karolina GecseMarketing Assistant – Prefixbox

Karolina is working with Prefixbox’s Marketing team on projects related to content, online presence and PR. She lives in Budapest, has a Bachelor’s in English, and is currently a Business student.