Aug 20 2018

Digital Sales Assistants vs. Product Filters: What Retailers Need to Know

Advanced search tools personalize e-commerce platforms to deliver the optimized shopping experiences customers have come to expect.

Retailers today have seen the impact of personalization on customer engagement and satisfaction. They also understand why delivering an individualized shopping experience is no longer optional.

“At this point, personalization is an expectation,” said mobile wireless expert Preston Harris, speaking at last year’s “Transforming the Customer Experience with Digital Modernization” CDW summit.

Though customer demands are pushing all retailers toward personalization, strategies for achieving that aim can differ — especially when it comes to online and mobile shopping.

For retailers optimizing their websites or apps, product filters and digital sales assistants offer two options for helping customers narrow down inventory to only those items that fit their needs and interests.

Product Filters Promote Convenience, Relevance

According to a recent Branding Brand study, filtering and sorting capabilities come standard on 96 percent of Fortune 500 retailer apps. But despite widespread adoption, some retailers may not be familiar with the complicated backend processes that make the retail technology work.

Product filtering connects shoppers with the right search results by relying on two key components, “attributes” and “values,” which are assigned to a product when it is first published to a digital store. An article published on explains the tags in more detail:

Attributes are the physical characteristics of a product — its size, color, fabric composition, weight, etc. Values, on the other hand, are the variations of those attributes. Here are some examples:

  • Attribute: Size
  • Values: 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, etc.
  • Attribute: Color
  • Values: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, etc.
  • Attribute: Fit
  • Values: Petite, Tall, Plus Size, etc.

Though it might seem beneficial to provide endless attributes and values, that approach can make shoppers feel overwhelmed by their options. On the other hand, offering too few makes it impossible for the customer to sort through all the noise and find the exact product they desire.

Creating a successful filtering function, therefore, relies on the retailer’s ability to anticipate how customers might identify and characterize each product. Nowhere is that level of personalization and forethought more evident than in the apparel industry.

“Anthropologie lets their customers filter their desired jeans by cut,” writes Regina Henkel in an article on “Netshoes follows a similar approach and also lists occasions, for example, for which a product can be worn. … At Esprit, customers can see more items with the same fit on each product description page. And Farfetch filters all product groups with specific product characteristics, such as sleeve length or neckline. Thus, customers do not get lost in large selections and quickly find what they are looking for.”

Digital Sales Assistants Take Filtering to the Next Level

While filtering generally drives customers toward items they already want or need, digital sales assistants guide shoppers toward products that might not even be on their radars.

The technology works by asking customers a series of simple questions — about how, when and where they intend to use the product — that help determine what needs they’re looking to fill. Rather than filtering through attributes and values, digital assistants then match the customer’s responses with relevant products.

“This way, even consumers who may lack a clear understanding of the products they need are able to discover and explore suitable products,” explains Ada Okoli in an article for Total Retail.

And digital sales assistants aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. “Guided selling adapts to different shoppers by dynamically changing questions based on previous responses,” according to an article on “These solutions adapt to the customer’s individual needs and personalize the experience every time,” it adds.

As an added benefit, digital sales assistants won’t return zero search results to a customer query. “Intelligent product advisors are able to compute close alternatives whenever there's no exact match to avoid frustrating the user,” Okoli writes.

Customers appreciate the enhanced search capabilities: Results of the Humanizing Digital 2020 report indicate that 64 percent of U.S. shoppers prefer digital sales assistants to product filtering. Another 82 percent of U.S. respondents say they would feel much more confident making a purchase after using the technology.

Those survey findings suggest that, even more than refining product filtering capabilities, adopting digital sales assistants can set retailers apart from their competitors.

“[Shoppers] want a website that can quite literally read their mind and surprise them with relevant results in a matter of seconds,” the article on states. “Guided selling does exactly that for your website, making yours the business of choice.”

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