A guide to evaluating the ideal search and discovery app

A guide to evaluating the ideal search and discovery app

Presenting the ideal products to the appropriate customers at the right moment has always been pivotal for small to enterprise-level Shopify merchants. That is because optimising this discovery experience has a huge potential to improve conversion rates.

Companies offering e-commerce search technology, provide a broad spectrum of features related to search result quality, result optimisations, merchandising, filtering, ranking, recommendations, and personalisation. They often assure their clients significant boosts in conversion rates and average cart values, with everything being as automated as possible, backed by artificial intelligence. But which vendors truly deliver on their promises? How many of these features do you really require and how can you choose the right app for your business?

Generally, the discovery app landscape seems rather complex. Shopify offers a free native Search & Discovery app with a good basic set of features, but it is only customisable to a limited extend. Furthermore, there are 70+ discovery apps available in the app store alone. While these usually do not require bigger implementation efforts, they still differ vastly in terms of license fees and offer diverse functionalities. Lastly, there are also e-commerce search solutions outside of the Shopify ecosystem which require a custom data integration and frontend implementation. While their integration costs are usually much higher, they may offer additional features.

Pre-selecting discovery apps

The list of options is big and making the right decision is crucial to maximise efficiency, conversion rates and avoid switching costs later on. Decision makers are often considering high-level topics like AI features and costs while underestimating the full impact of choosing a solution. Also familiarity and relationships of merchants with certain discovery vendors play a role in decision. In Shopify, we call this an "orthodoxy trap". It basically means making decisions without considering potential alternatives that might offer better solutions, innovations, or cost-effectiveness.

Instead, merchants should start and create a long-list of apps they are interested in. The source of those could come from a list of popular discovery apps in the app store. Afterwards, the long-list should be turned into a short-list of 3-5 apps by considering factors like ratings, pricing, geographic focus, app integrations and support options. The recently introduced comparison feature in the Shopify app store can help to get a high-level overview of a list of pre-selected apps. 

Feature evaluation


With the short list of apps, merchants can now clarify their own specific requirements and compare them with the offered features. Too often it occurs that decision makers like one specific feature, but they are even unaware of their own needs. The following dimensions shed light on the factors that are important to consider:

  • End user requirements: How are the current customers searching on the site, how are they navigating and what do they expect? E.g. search terms, behaviour patterns, ...
  • Channel requirements: Where and how should the future search and product recommendations slots be surfaced? E.g. online store, mobile app, newsletter, ...
  • Organisation requirements: Which access scopes for managing rules in the backend of the solution are available?
  • Process requirements: How much time should the store managers spend in the backend of the app to optimise the experience?
  • System requirements: Which specific app integrations are required? E.g. analytics, reviews to power rankings.
  • Data requirements: Which data quality management and ingestion capabilities are needed?

Once those requirements are clear, it will be much easier to map them to the features of shortlisted apps. This usually involves documentation reviews and reaching out to the vendors to clarify specific requirements, since features are constantly changing. Scoring helps to evaluate to which extent specific requirements can be met and supports the final decision.

Final review

In the final review, merchants should check if the requirement fulfilment scores significantly differ. They also need to review pricing and take this into account for the decision. While the native Shopify Search & Discovery app is free, other partner apps usually have a license fee which is based on a multitude of factors.  For example, Algolia calculates costs based on number of products and search requests, while Boost AI Search & Filter has a tiered pricing additionally based on plan and add-ons. To compare costs, merchants should request their custom pricing offer based on their requirements.

Furthermore, requesting discovery app vendors to demo their solution and how they can fulfil the requirements can also help to get a feeling for the final decision. It also helps to check the cultural fit between the app vendor and the merchant. Using this step-by-step approach, Shopify merchants can make sure that they make an informed decision. The gathered requirements are also already a good preparation for the integration phase.

How Shopify Professional Services can help

Do you want to make an informed decision when selecting your ideal Shopify discovery app? At Growth Services we have helped many merchants to run through this process. From analysing your requirements, comparing apps' features to finding your most cost-efficient and fully satisfying solution. We are happy to guide you through this process. Contact us to find out more information about this paid service.

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