Guided Selling Vs. Faceted Search: How Do They Compare?

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While retailers and brands take pride in having large assortments, it’s becoming more difficult for consumers to make a choice. Consumers may love having options, but they don’t want to spend hours rifling through a volley of options to find the right product.

Consider your morning coffee. Ethiopian, Colombian, or Sumatran? Light, medium, or dark roast? French pressed or drip? Regular, decaf, or half caff? That’s too many questions to answer when all you want is a cup of joe.

It gets worse as you proceed to your choice of shower gel, cologne, clothing, your choice of car—it goes on and on.

The increased volumed of information and choice overload can cause fatigue among customers who are tired of filtering large volumes of information. Customer-focused businesses face the challenge of providing customers with a simpler path to purchase.

To give your customers a satisfying shopping experience, you must help them find their perfect product faster.

In fact, 86% of customers are willing to pay up to 25% more for a better customer experience according to RightNow. That says it all.

So, what can small businesses do to provide the type of experience their customers really want?

Faceted search and guided selling are two approaches businesses can use to assist shoppers in their decision-making process. In this article, we’ll define these terms and also do an in-depth comparison of the two approaches.

What is faceted search?

Faceted search, also known as faceted navigation, offers shoppers a predefined set of attributes, or product features, which can be used to narrow down a list of products to display only those that match the user’s desired product specification.

For example, Amazon allows combining several filters to narrow down their large coffee offering to a decaffeinated, dark, and low-fat coffee.

Faceted search implementation on allows narrowing down the huge selection of coffee products to the suitable results

What is guided selling?

Guided selling—also known as a product or digital advisor—is an interactive questionnaire that resembles an interaction with a sales associate in a store. It asks targeted questions to understand a shopper’s wants and needs, it educates and explains, and in the end, presents the shopper with a list of suitable options.

Let’s build on the coffee example above. It’s unlikely that every coffee drinker knows the difference between Ethiopian and Sumatran blends. Instead of making online shoppers pick technical filters, which they may or may not understand, Nespresso’s digital coffee advisors ask a few needs-based questions about the shopper’s preferred taste and guides them to the best coffee variation for them.

Nespresso coffee selector helps shoppers find the right coffee type based on their flavor preferences

Let’s see how the two approaches perform across the key areas of the customer experience.

1. Accessibility: Attribute-based vs. needs-based

How faceted search does it

For customers who know exactly what features they are looking for, faceted search is a quick way to drill down to the right product.

For example, if a shopper is looking for a laptop and already knows that it should come with an Intel 6th Generations Core, 16 GB RAM, and a solid state drive, a faceted search approach can narrow their search to those exact options.

Faceted search implementation,

How guided selling does it

What if a shopper does’t know the differences between Intel Core i5, Intel Core i3 or Intel Core i7 processors, or between a solid state drive and a mechanical hard drive?

A digital product advisor addresses novices and unsure shoppers, who are less experienced, by asking the user simple questions such as “What will you use your laptop for?”

On the back end, it analyzes the responses and identifies the products that match the stated needs. The shopper is not confronted with abstract technical features that they nay not understand.

The Printus product advisor focuses on the shopper’s needs by asking them questions such as “What Will You Mainly Use Your Laptop For?”

2. Value communication: Features vs. benefits

How faceted search does it

Faceted searches present users with a technical list of product features, without indicating what the benefits are. For example, a customer choosing a TV may have to select the features such as HD, 3D, and 4K without necessarily knowing what the difference is.

How guided selling does it

Digital product advisors aim to improve the decision-making process and experience through advice and education. They usually include contextual information to explain the value and benefit of different options.

The search results include not only suitable products, but also explanations of how they satisfy the shopper’s needs.

TV advisor educates customers through contextual info texts

Recommendations are explained

3. Flexibility: One size fits all vs. personalization

How faceted search does it

Faceted search presents the same list of filters to every customer:

Faceted navigation on a website of a retailer selling glasses. All users are presented with the same options.

How guided selling does it

A digital product advisor dynamically adapts the questions and answers based on the user’s previous responses, providing an experience that feels more personal, and contextually relevant.

Some implementations integrate past behavior and known preferences to personalize the experience even further.

Different question paths for women and men based on the user’s answer

4. Setup and design: Complexity vs. simplicity

How faceted search does it

Some retailers want to give their shoppers many options, which they can then drill down into to find the right product.

Facets present users with a long list of options

How guided selling does it

Digital product advisors are set up in a modular form. Questions are clustered by themes and users can answer them in a step-by-step process. For customers who want to avoid an overwhelming number of options, this makes the pages easier to navigate, as users are not confronted with too many products at a time.

5. Interaction: Functional vs. entertaining

How Faceted Search Does It

Faceted search is primarily a functional tool that provides users, who know exactly how to apply different filters, with a quick way to their desired results.

How Guided Selling Does It

Digital product advisors aim to take users on an entertaining journey during which they can learn more about the product they wish to purchase. These solutions can include multimedia content such as audio and video intended to keep users engaged and less focused on the fact that they’re making a decision.

6. Search results: No match found vs. Alternative options

How faceted search does it

With the faceted search, only products that meet all the specified criteria show up on the results page. If there is no product that meets every single criterion, customers could be presented with a “No Matches Found” message, though better sites will often redirect the buyer to similar items or options.

How guided selling does it

Guided search can make recommendations based on the customers desired outcomes instead of just their list of feature requirements. That means being able to make recommendations outside of a fixed feature set. For customers who know what they want to achieve but not how to achieve it, that can be a great solution. It can also lead to fewer “No Matches,” as recommendations can be flexible beyond features.

The verdict

Faceted search can offer shoppers a quick way to the right products or solutions, provided that they are familiar with the product domain and already understand which features they need.

Guided Selling is suitable for shoppers, who know their needs and the problems they want to solve, but are not sure which features they may need and what the product will do.

Does your business need guided selling?

Consider investing in guided selling if you fit one of the following criteria:

1. Your product assortment is wide and quickly changing

2. You constantly reinvent and develop new products

3. Your products are complex with numerous features and multiple options

Final thoughts

Hopefully this overview has helped you to understand the pros and cons of both approaches. With increasing competition and the proliferation of choices, the concept of “Helping shoppers decide is an important differentiator that no business can ignore.

If you’re looking for ways to make your site shine, check out our post on 18 Free Tools for Building an eCommerce Site. You can also check out our eCommerce directory, to read reviews of zoovu and other software options for your website.

Looking for Retail Management Systems software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Retail Management Systems software solutions.

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About the Author


Ada Okoli

Ada is VP of Marketing and Research at Zoovu. Zoovu is an international technology company that provides leading companies with a smart Digital Advice Technology to quickly set up digital advisors (Guided selling solutions) without heavy-lifting. Try it out here zoovu


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