Executive Summary

Are you ready to fully capitalize on the next spike in traffic your store experiences? Do you understand the different motivations driving bargain-seeking sales shoppers versus more targeted trend-followers?

In today’s e-commerce landscape, fortune favors the prepared! On-site search can form an important part of your retention strategy, providing polished customer experience and a more carefully curated user journey.

This guide will teach you how to prepare your store so that any influx of new custom is converted into dependable repeat business.

Peak Flow: Harnessing Potential

It’s estimated that by 2040, 95% of purchases will be made online. Traffic to e-commerce stores is steadily increasing, but so is the competition online retailers face. With greater numbers of consumers feeling comfortable and confident shopping online (especially since the global pandemic necessitated this) people are spending more than ever before with e-commerce vendors.

As shoppers become more experienced with online retail, their expectations rise. E-commerce audiences demand more from the stores that they visit, and are becoming more discerning about where their money is spent.

Because of this, when an online store experiences a particular spike in new traffic, it’s important to welcome new customers with a flawless first impression — one that sees them converting, delighted, and likely to return again.

The Opportunity of an Influx

There are many different reasons that e-commerce retailers may experience a spike in traffic. Promotional sales have long been an important driver of new custom, and the opportunity and scope for these types of events are growing. Promotional sales which were once localized, are increasingly international phenomena. BFCM, for example, was once a very specifically North American event, but today, with the rise of cross-border selling, it’s effectively global.

Similarly, a more internationally mobile and culturally aware global population means that regional holidays are no longer celebrated solely in their countries of origin.

E-commerce calendars are adjusting to reflect these new spending patterns.

We’re also seeing global events having an impact on unprecedented numbers of people and creating some common trends as a result. The huge spike in e-commerce sales as a result of widespread lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a clear example of this.

All this adds up to a big opportunity for online retailers. With the number of potential traffic spikes increasing in frequency and size, regular influxes of new customers can be expected. The question is how to capitalize on these peaks, retaining the maximum number of these first-time visitors?

Retrain to Retain: Setting a Strategy

Looking to turn a first-time visitor into a loyal customer? There’s a critical first step: make them a customer in the first place! By focusing on ensuring that magical first conversion, your chances of retention leap. After one purchase, a customer has a 27% chance of returning to your store.

If you can also impress them with a memorable, stress-free shopping experience, their chances of returning to make repeat purchases continue to increase with every conversion, leaping to 54% by the third sale.

Spikes in traffic are a powerful opportunity to impress and convert a huge influx of brand new, loyal customers. Customer loyalty starts with a single sale, so it’s important to have a clear strategy around capturing the potential of these big inflows of traffic.

A sophisticated on-site search experience helps with both sides of this coin — increased chance of conversion, and superlative shopping experience.

This guide will walk you through all the ways you can make sure you’re ready and waiting to turn your next traffic peak into an army of repeat purchase brand evangelists.

First, Define and Decode Your Traffic Spike

There are many different reasons that an e-commerce store might experience a temporary leap in traffic. When looking to set a retention strategy, it’s important to identify the cause of the spike, and understand what’s motivating the customers in this new wave of business.

The way a BFCM shopper navigates your store is likely to be very different to how a customer seeking a specific item that’s gone unexpectedly viral on social media will behave. How can you ensure their experience is optimal, and expectations are exceeded?

When setting out a retention strategy for an influx of first-time visitors, you need to consider the specific user journey and plan accordingly. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to maximizing your impact here.

Very broadly speaking, e-commerce retailers are likely to see spikes in traffic for one of two reasons. The first is as the result of a planned promotional sale (this could, for example, be linked to a holiday or recognized shopping event, or to a standalone marketing campaign).

The second is less predictable: an event beyond the control or influence of the retailer which causes a spontaneous increase in interest in your store and/or products (a product unexpectedly goes viral, a global pandemic causes a new specific demand etc.).

Let’s look at both in a little more detail, before delving into the tactics you can deploy to ensure maximum retention of both.

Promotional Sales Spikes

  • These are predictable, controlled by the retailer and planned for in advance.
  • They tend to follow a clear calendar (although this continues to evolve, and it’s important to stay on top of changing sales and holiday trends).
  • The traffic generated won’t all be new custom, but the persona to focus on when looking to boost retention here is first-time shoppers.
  • Shoppers are most likely to navigate directly to a promotional sales page.
  • Your spike will be made up of bargain hunters looking to browse — they might not have a distinct product in mind (although will of course be driven by an interest in your vertical).


A promotional sale is created to generate interest in Halloween-focused products throughout October. The sale is promoted widely across social media platforms, and targeted online advertising. As expected, as the sale is promoted, an increase in traffic is observed.

Spontaneous Spikes

  • These are unpredictable and beyond the control of the retailer.
  • They may arise as the result of something like a global pandemic or an unplanned celeb endorsement.
  • They generate a certain spike of niche interest.
  • Although they are harder to see coming, you can still get strategic as a retailer to ensure you have a default strategy ready to implement when you identify a spike of this nature.
  • If you can recognize the cause of this interest, and define it, you can optimize for conversion with clear signposting and suggestions that factor in the zeitgeist.


Meghan Markle is photographed holding a baby vest that you exclusively sell. This wasn’t a planned endorsement but the photos are all over the press. Demand for the vest is high and as a result, lots of new customers are suddenly finding their way to your store, looking for the vest.

Retention Tactic 1: Incentivize Search-Led User Journeys

Break Out the Magnifying Glasses

The conversion stats behind on-site search are significant, and yet product discovery is often overlooked when it comes to improving online store outcomes.

In research, companies studied were shown to have an average overall e-commerce conversion rate of 2.77%. But the conversion rate nearly doubled to 4.63% for the group of people that interacted with on-site search.

Forrester Research found that 43% of visitors to a site go immediately to a search box. By incentivizing search you can get your percentage as high as possible to maximize the chance of conversion and turn a curious visitor into a first-time purchaser.

The idea is to crystallize a customer’s intention — turn general browsers into “spearfishers” with a clear idea of what they would like to purchase.

By encouraging the use of on-site search, you channel their mindset from a state of “What might I find?” to “What do I want?” This puts window shoppers in a much better psychological state for conversion — and as a result, subsequent retention.

Let’s explore the ways you can encourage use of on-site search for both planned and unplanned traffic spikes.

Incentivizing Search for Promotional Sales Shoppers


More than any other category of visitor, promotional sales shoppers are likely to have no clear product in mind when navigating to your store.

Their motivation tends to lean towards general bargain-hunting — they know that you’re running promotions and they’re broadly interested in seeing what they might be able to find, at a good price.

As a result, they’re less likely to start their journey by instantly jumping into the search bar. It’s safe to assume that if a promotional tactic announcing a sale led them to your store, they’ll be looking for sales banners or tabs within navigation etc.

Happily, there are still plenty of ways you can incentivize the use of on-site search as part of their user journey.

Ensure that your search bar occupies a very prominent position on all versions of your site, both mobile and desktop (sales traffic will often be driven from mobile devices, where spontaneous purchases are more common — 81% of mobile sales are impulse buys!).

This gives your shoppers faith in on-site search as a credible and easy way of navigating your store.

You can also encourage use of the search bar by pre-filling it with trending suggestions. If a shopper is generally browsing and looking for inspiration, seeding their user journey with ideas that other people are currently showing interest in is a great way to encourage them to dive straight into product discovery.

Social proof plays an important role in the effectiveness of pushing “trending products” — people are highly motivated to explore opportunities that their peers are already taking advantage of. It’s hardwired into us!

Incentivizing Search for Spontaneous Shoppers


In direct contrast to your more general sales shoppers, the customers drawn to your site thanks to a more spontaneous, unplanned traffic spike are more likely to have a clear purpose. After all, a specific trigger (such as the baby vest press photos in our Meghan Markle example) has arisen to inspire the visit in the first place.

They may be looking for a certain product that they’ve seen endorsed elsewhere, or for a specialist item that has experienced a sudden upswing in popularity (for example, home workout equipment after the announcement that Coronavirus would see gyms close their doors).

Because they’re a more intentional shopper, the chances are higher that they’ll want to interact with your search bar in the first place. So you’re already approaching this tactic with a degree of advantage.

There’s still much you can do to ensure that they both enter a search term, and get the results they’re looking for. Again, prominent positioning of your search bar is standard best practice and should be a default strategy.

You can also make sure that you’re on top of these temporary trends, acting fast to reflect them within your search bar and capitalize on the interest. This could either be with placeholder text that simply suggests the product itself (“Search for dumbbells, gym mats, skipping ropes…”) or more conversational (“Gym closed? Search for your home gym equipment here…”).

Alternatively you can ensure that dropdown trending suggestions materialize as the shopper clicks into the search bar, or display a quick search overlay that instantly appears and suggests certain options via promotional banner, blog content or categories.

This laser-focused approach does require a retailer to be on their toes. But the payoff is an audience that feels recognized and supported, and that leaps willingly to on-site search as the start of their user journey, setting you up for an increased chance of conversion.

How Klevu Helps…

As a sophisticated on-site search solution, Klevu is well-positioned to help you in preparing all of this groundwork.

The data generated by users interacting with your on-site search can give fantastic insights into where interest is being directed. It’s all easily and intuitively accessible within our user-friendly dashboard.

Additionally, trending keywords can be automatically detected and added to suggestions, without a single keystroke required.

If you’re looking to add more targeted, instructional signposting to help capture your customers’ attention and guide their user journey, look no further than Klevu’s promotional banners. These can be tied to predefined keywords, ensuring that you’re targeting the segments of your traffic that are highly likely to be interested in the collections you direct them towards.

Retention Tactic 2: Optimize Product Discovery

Give the People What They Want

As we examined in this Guide’s introduction, the best way to retain a customer is to turn them into one in the first place!

Maximize their chance of conversion (and subsequent loyalty) by taking all reasonable steps to ensure your curious customers don’t leave your store empty-handed. Once you’ve incentivized search, the next step is to make product discovery a breeze.

This doesn’t just mean giving your audience a clear path to finding the item they want. You need to guarantee that in the process, they’ll also be exposed to plenty of appealing items that they didn’t know they wanted in the first place.

All this adds up to an optimized path to conversion, getting that all-important first sale across the line. First-time browsers of your store are unfamiliar with your navigation, category structure and naming conventions. So take every opportunity to lay out the welcome mat and matchmake them with the perfect product.

On-site search plays a huge role here, for both spontaneous and promotional sales-led traffic spikes. Let’s take a look at how it can help in each instance.

Product Discovery for Promotional Sales Shoppers


If (despite their tendency not to turn to on-site search to begin their user journey) you’ve managed to get a sales shopper to enter a specific query, don’t risk turning them off with an overwhelming or cluttered results page.

While some folk like wading through the sale rail, chances are high that your customers are shopping online to avoid that chaotic experience!

When landing on your search results page, first and foremost, it should look appealing. In terms of structure and design, it should perfectly mirror and complement the rest of your store’s experience.

The process of narrowing down the range of relevant products returned should also be sleek and efficient. Dynamic filters are your best friend here.

Automatically generated, so that only filters relevant to the products displayed are on show, they help shoppers to quickly narrow down their results so they can find the perfect product with ease.

They can also be very helpful within a promotional sales context when high demand means that certain variable attributes may be out of stock or running low. In the case of apparel for example, a customer may choose to filter the results of their search for their clothes size alone to eliminate any options that are unsuitable for purchase.

When looking to delight your sales-based traffic, you should also merchandise to factor in low or out of stock items. Don’t show these at the top of results — they’re an unwelcoming introduction to the products you hope to show in their best light.

Product Discovery for Spontaneous Shoppers


For peaks of interest and general trends that bring an influx of new custom, consider manually boosting the items that you know will appeal. Make the most of shoppers’ interest by offering a range of similar items curated to appeal to the motivations driving the spike in traffic.

For example, if you’re an apparel company seeing a huge interest in a certain dress that Kate Middleton was pictured wearing, you might want to link results pages to a custom landing page or optimized collection pages via a custom banner promoting other “dresses fit for a Duchess”. In the context of the Coronavirus home gym example, you could build out product discovery around a promotional ad strategy that directed people to “create the perfect home gym.”

You should also consider adding contextual capacity to your search. Think about what your customers might be inputting (or check your zero results keywords) to try to find the item they’re looking for. If a celebrity was photographed wearing a certain pair of shoes, shoppers may well search for the name of that celebrity on your store, instead of entering a search term that focused on the shoes themselves.

This was exactly the case for British shoe designer Grenson. After Holly Willoughby wore a pair of their handmade boots during an I’m A Celeb appearance, fans immediately started searching for her name on the brand’s online store. This search term yielded no results, so Grenson set up a synonym and variations to make sure customers keen to track down an identical pair were not left disappointed. Be proactive in anticipating this, or at least mindful to check in on how visitors are searching your store for highly specific items.

How Klevu Helps...

When it comes to perfect product discovery, Klevu has you covered for all eventualities. Right from the get-go, you’re guaranteed search results pages that not only perform, but that look and feel totally in keeping with the rest of your store’s template.

Our “out the box” themes look exceptionally professional, but if you’re seeking absolute consistency of design then theme preservation is, quite literally, a simple box-ticking exercise for our Magento-hosted customers.

Dynamic filtering is also available, and ready to have a transformative effect on your customers’ shopping experience. This feature ensures that results pages present an array of relevant, informative and intuitive filters, uniquely (and automatically) customized to each and every search-led user journey.

Finally, managing synonyms is incredibly simple. Easily adjust the search terms recognized by your store, and redirect interest to the appropriate products. Zero results search terms no longer need to keep you up at night!

Retention Tactic 3: Merchandise Strategically

Everything Must Go (And Come Back Again)

When we’re expecting guests, we tend to run the vacuum cleaner around and plump up the couch cushions. Merchandising with a view to a spike in store traffic is the e-commerce equivalent. If you’re expecting (or experiencing) company, be sure to set your store up for success.

Merchandising is such an important element of your customer experience. Consumers need to be presented with products arranged in a strategic yet dynamic manner, shifting to reflect trends, stock levels and more. Getting this right and ensuring that the right products show up in the right place, at the right time, can make or break your conversion rates.

Although it’s important to have some manual control over the finetuning, ultimately when it comes to presenting your stock in the optimal order, you need to be leveraging AI and automation. There’s simply no way manual efforts can compare, especially in some of your busiest times!

Merchandising That Keeps Sales Customers Returning


As discussed in Retention Tactic 1: Incentivising Search, the typical customer navigating to your store as the result of a promotional sale is highly likely to be looking to browse sales categories more generally.

Chances are the majority of them will be heading to a category page. So to give them a great first experience of your brand (and optimize your chances of that crucial, retention-boosting first sale) you need to ensure that these category pages are merchandised just as well as your results pages would be.

This is where Smart Category Navigation comes into play. Taking away all the day to day work of merchandising your category pages, AI is applied to your product ordering. Your bargain-hungry customers will be served the most relevant products that are most likely to appeal and end up in a cart.

Of course, as a retailer with deep insight into the workings of your store and products, you’ll want to be able to go in and manually make a few tweaks here and there. For example you might want to showcase hero SKUs in the top row, or boost a product that you’re keen to phase out.

Your merchandising strategy should ensure that you drop out of stock items to the bottom of category pages or results pages. There’s nothing more disappointing than a row of unavailable items and that “just missed out” feeling. Presented with the digital equivalent of empty shelves, your customers will naturally assume all the good stuff has gone, and be likely to bounce.

Merchandising That Keeps Spontaneous Shoppers Returning


The beauty of leveraging an AI-powered on-site search solution is that it will naturally pick up on and optimize for trends within your product popularity. This means that as your traffic experiences a spike, and certain keywords start to trend as a result, your best sellers will be boosted automatically. This means your results page (and category pages, if working with Smart Category Navigation) will always be perfectly primed to delight your trend-seeking shoppers.

It would be incredibly difficult to replicate this kind of responsive, real-time optimization manually, but by leaning on the power of Klevu’s algorithm, you can hand over the reins with confidence.

Again, you may still wish to boost certain products that your experience tells you would be a good fit for the audience beating a path to your door. You might also want to promote or pin certain products with better margins or stock considerations.

To further guide your customers to carefully curated shopping experiences, you could consider running targeted marketing campaigns that drive traffic to a custom landing page designed to capitalize on specific interests that you see emerging. For example, a homeware company experiencing a spike of traffic interested in standing desks and ergonomic chairs at the start of the pandemic could have looked at a landing page campaign providing everything you need to set up a great working from home office space.

Ultimately, by making sure your store is ready to respond automatically to a temporary peak of specific interest, your merchandising strategy is ready to work hard for you 24/7. There’s no risk of missing an opportunity — your products will always be ranked in a way that appeals to the traffic and interest that your store is enjoying.

How Klevu Helps...

When it comes to merchandising, Klevu ticks all of the boxes. Our wide array of merchandising features, powered by advanced AI and leveraging personalization mean your store is optimized for each and every customer.

Get the same effect across your category pages, saving days of tedious and costly manual effort, with our Smart Category Navigation. Klevu’s AI algorithm automatically optimizes ranking, right down to product variant level.

Klevu will also help to take care of the management of your out of stock items — by default, our search won’t display products that are unavailable. But if you want to create a sense of urgency? This can easily be adjusted so they’re shown and people realize what they’ve already missed out on!

And if you’re looking to leverage landing pages, you’re in luck. We’ve recently released our new landing page builder tool and it’s proving incredibly popular already. Easily design, build and deploy dynamic, product-focused landing pages with fantastic converting power.


While we all wish for eternal “up and to the right” trends, e-commerce traffic isn’t linear. As the world becomes more connected — either through cultural events triggering more widespread interest, or a global pandemic — the only constant is change.

As a result, the smartest retailers put measures in place so that whenever they experience a spike, and whatever its cause, they’re ready to react without breaking a sweat. New influxes can be instantly welcomed with a personalized approach, tailored to the nature of their arrival and circumstance. In successfully turning these newcomers into converted first-time customers, retailers maximize the chance of turning them into loyal, repeat customers.

The superlative on-site search experience that helped drive these initial conversions does double duty. It delights them into loyalty and lays the foundation for hyper-personalized future experiences, as part of a broader omni-channel brand relationship.

Klevu gives you all the tools you need to achieve this and more. From incentivizing search at the very start of a user journey, through to making sure shoppers are presented with the most relevant and easily discoverable products, on-site search powered by Klevu leverages powerful features that have a real, tangible impact on customer experience.

The e-commerce industry is briefly coming up for air — the initial pressure of COVID-19 is beginning to subside and the holiday and sales season are lurching into view. So take a moment to assess your own store’s strategy when it comes to retaining the traffic that events like these bring.

Klevu offers a powerful, plug and play solution that can be up and running in a matter of hours. The free trial will give you all the proof of its potential you require. Get ahead of the game now — start putting measures in place so that the next time your store enjoys a wave of fresh customers, they’re converted, delighted and soon back for more!

Get Klevu working hard for you ahead of BFCM. Book your demo today and get ready to retain your new sales traffic.

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