Is the switch to Next Generation worth it? With nearly 10 years of experience with FACT-Finder, Patricia Zwack from RE-IN weighs in on the matter. Spoiler alert, she describes it as “the right step – no comparison to the past.”
A rating of 4.8 stars from over 96,000 customers sends a clear message: RE-IN (Retail International GmbH) knows how to make online shoppers happy. In recent years, this eCommerce company has written a growth story of excellence, expanding the assortment of its four online stores from 450,000 to now more than 4 million products and implementing a marketplace model into voelkner.de, RE-IN‘s largest store – a major challenge not only organizationally but also technically. After all, to ensure that online shoppers find what they are looking for quickly and reliably, more than 10 million data records have to be processed in the background. This was a task only FACT-Finder Next Generation was up to.
“The fact that it works so quickly and with such high performance is impressive,“ says Patricia Zwack, Onsite Search Expert at RE-IN. Patricia has been working with FACT-Finder for nearly 10 years. She managed the migration from version 7.3 to Next Generation and shares her experience from the project. “Our customers immediately noticed that we optimized something about the search. We received feedback letting us know it had improved and support requests to our customer care have decreased. Our search performance improved significantly and the conversion rate increased by almost 10%. I highly recommend switching to everyone.“
As an innovative company in eCommerce, RE-IN distinguishes itself by constantly reinventing, evolving, and improving approaches while keeping people and their experiences as the central focus. RE-IN has over 10.8 million satisfied customers across the four stores it oversees: voelkner, digitalo, SMDV and getgoods. If you were to ask customers what makes RE-IN’s business stand out, it’s simply the many advantages such as good price-performance ratio, wide variety, and smooth processes. “It’s important to us that customers feel comfortable with us and have an effortless shopping experience,” explains Patricia. The company’s strong focus on customer satisfaction has motivated RE-IN to continue exceeding expectations rather than taking a complacent approach. “Our customer response is really something to be proud of and it shows that we’re already doing quite well, but of course, we can always do better.”
This ambitious mentality can be seen throughout the company and felt among its employees. Patricia, for example, is responsible for search and navigation in RE-IN’s four online stores, from voelkner’s marketplace to digitalo’s consumer electronics, SMDV’s model trains, and getgoods which operates in 5 countries and in 3 languages. “We do all of that via FACT-Finder,” she explains. With nearly a decade of experience working in search, she still describes the field as exciting. “voelkner has over 1.5 million visits per month of which 18 percent use the search function. So, there’s always something to do.”
FACT-Finder as a trusted partner for over 10 years
Patricia has been with RE-IN since 2013, which is exactly how long she’s been working with FACT-Finder’s market-leading search technology. Of course, the company never took its pick of search solution for granted, being sure to test FACT-Finder against other providers. “Since we are continuously developing, we also regularly check whether the systems we are using still fit our requirements,” Patricia explains. Over the past 10 years, however, FACT-Finder has stood up to any comparison and supported RE-IN’s online growth with a wide range of functions. These include search optimization tools such as synonyms, ranking rules and redirect pages as well as flexible merchandising functions.
“What convinces me most about FACT-Finder is its variety,” she says. “After all, it’s not just a search tool. We use it regularly for marketing campaigns.” Especially for short-term campaigns, the solution allows the team to react quickly. “We fire up the FACT-Finder and build landing pages for our SEA campaigns, highlight special products in the results lists, integrate guided selling campaigns, and even create product sets for our newsletter campaigns,” remarks Patricia. She also praises FACT-Finder’s consulting services for the additional help they provide her. “I can do everything myself if I want to, but I don’t have to. If we get stuck somewhere, I know there is someone available at FACT-Finder who I can quickly call and say ‘I’m stuck’ and then we do it together. I really like this, and the fact that we’ve been working together for so long is a testament to that.”
Marketplace strategy that pays off
In 2019, RE-IN made a huge step toward its ambitious growth strategy by planning the launch of a marketplace platform with its largest store voelkner. Third-party retailers have since been able to add their products to voelkner.de and make them visible to the marketplace‘s one million monthly visitors. It‘s a win-win-win situation because online shoppers get an even wider selection, brick-and-mortar third-party retailers sell on an additional digital channel with little effort, and RE-IN increases its revenue through commissions.
At the beginning of 2020, just a few months after the launch of the marketplace model, the first lockdown was declared in several European countries including Germany. It quickly became clear that RE-IN had implemented the right strategy at exactly the right time. Patricia describes, “With our marketplace, we were able to help stationary retailers sell even when stores were closed.“ The fact that the connection of new third-party retailers and new products worked so well was mainly due to two factors: first, the dedication of RE-IN‘s highly professional team, and second, choosing the right eCommerce system.
“We have over four million products in our stores, which in turn have different offer variants – each with different price ladders for B2C and B2B customers,“ explains Patricia. In addition, there are around 4,500 filter attributes that have to be assigned to the right products for each search query in the store. This complex logic must be processed correctly via search and navigation and displayed in the front end with high performance. According to Patricia, there are more than 10 million data records from more than 200 retailers – and the number keeps rising. “We want to continually expand our marketplace to better meet the needs of our customers,“ says Patricia. “Of course, our search solution also has to adapt to this goal. There‘s a lot of data to be processed in the background so it’s important to us to have a partner who can keep up.“
Seamless transition to Next Generation
Planning the switch to Next Generation began in 2019 when the team started preparations for the marketplace – a project whose size required extensive assessment. “We had to evaluate which tools we already had that could be applied toward the marketplace, what exactly we needed, and how should it be done,” Patricia explains that led her team to upgrade their FACT-Finder version. In 2020, the RE-IN and FACT-Finder teams began to develop the existing system while implementing Next Generation parallel.
The go-live date was planned to be ahead of Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, an already busy time for most retailers. “When you do a project like this, you think of the time schedule and expect something to come up that goes differently, but the project went really well. Everything was well planned and someone from FACT-Finder was always available,” says Patricia. She even recalls unexpected evening sessions with the FACT-Finder team to get everything ready in time. The project went live on schedule, an accomplishment that Patricia credits to the partnership she has with FACT-Finder. “I think we have a very good relationship, a very cooperative relationship. We can talk openly about challenges and find solutions together.” When looking back, she describes her experience with the project as “a lot of fun” and switching to Next Generation as “the right step” for the company. “We would definitely do it again.”
Higher conversion rate, search performance and result quality
What makes Next Generation unlike any other is its capabilities – particularly in terms of eCommerce KPIs. Patricia reports that both RE-IN sales and online shopper satisfaction have improved, “By switching to Next Generation our conversion rate increased by almost 10 percent, and as a result, we were able to increase our revenue. We are especially happy about the higher customer satisfaction since the go-live. Our customers immediately noticed that we optimized something about the search.” She explains that RE-IN conducts regular customer surveys to check how satisfied online shoppers are with the search. Those survey scores have gone up significantly, she says, while support requests to the customer care department have dropped.
“Next Generation has really given us an uplift,” Patricia points out. In addition, search performance has also developed positively. This means that everything generated via FACT-Finder, whether product suggestions, search results, or filters, now load faster, within just a few milliseconds. For a marketplace with several million products, this is no small task but is crucial to ensure the best possible customer experience and conversion rate. “The performance has improved significantly, as our customers have also confirmed. The response has been really great – no comparison to the past,” Patricia explains. She adds that thanks to the better search core in Next Generation, she has even been able to switch off campaigns that were previously needed for search optimization. “I can only recommend everyone to switch because the search algorithm has become better than the 7 version,” she says.
Ready to get personal
Now that RE-IN has Next Generation powering their online shops, the next steps are to take advantage of the new advances and fine-tune them to fit their customer requirements. First on the list is filters, a front-end topic visitors have often pointed out. The improvements are already in the works, following A/B testing as well as usability surveys which provided valuable insights the team put into action. Patricia also describes that mobile is a central point in RE-IN’s filters optimization strategy, the objective being to make them easier to use and more responsive.
To further advance the site’s responsiveness, RE-IN is experimenting with FACT-Finder’s Personalization module which enables them to deliver highly individualized, 1:1, real-time experiences as unique as the customer. Patricia explains the test phase with the module ran for three months and, at the time of this interview, had ended a few days before. The team will now begin analyzing and evaluating the results in order to decide how to proceed with the topic of personalization. Patricia remarks that although the test results are very fresh, they have already been able to pinpoint positive numbers: “The click rate has definitely increased.”
RE-IN recognizes that to deliver personalized experiences to every one of its combined 2 million monthly visitors it will need to make use of automation. “We want to achieve a lot with as little manpower as possible, and that simply requires AI,” says Patricia. Her team wants to meet customers’ unique needs via the search, delivering results tailored to each individual as well as catering to the experience for both B2C and B2B. This is a major challenge but one the company readily embraces with FACT-Finder by its side.