One of the biggest problems in the world of e-commerce is the predicament of shopping cart abandonment: when shoppers aren't getting to what they want fast enough -- whether it's finding the right item, or paying for it in a quick and easy way -- they bounce. That singular problem is driving a wave of technology development to make the experience ever more seamless, and today one of the companies closely involved in that space is announcing some funding on the back of healthy growth.
Constructor, which has built technology that powers search and product discovery tools for e-commerce businesses, has picked up $55 million in a Series A round of funding. Constructor says that it powers "billions" of queries every month, with revenues growing 233% in the last year. Customers it works with include Sephora, Walmart's Bonobos, Backcountry and many other big names.
The round is being led by Silversmith Capital Partners -- which coincidentally, just today, led another round for an e-commerce startup, Zonos.
It is joined by a long list of notable individual investors. They include David Fraga, former president of InVision; Kevin Weil, former head of product at Twitter and Instagram; Jason Finger, founder of Seamless; Carl Sparks, ex-CEO of Travelocity; Robyn Peterson, CTO at CNN; Dave Heath, founder of Bombas; Ryan Barretto, president at Sprout Social; Melody Hildebrandt, EVP engineering and CISO at FOX; Zander Rafael, co-founder of Better.com; and Seth Shaw, CRO at Airtable. Cap Table Coalition -- a firm that helps underrepresented-background investors back up-and-coming startups -- was also involved. Fraga is joining Constructor's board with this round.
The last year and a half has been a bumper one for the world of e-commerce -- with more traffic, transactions and retailers moving online in the wake of social distancing measures impacting in-person, physical shopping. But that has also exposed a lot of the cracks in how e-commerce works (or doesn't work, as the case may be).
One of the more dysfunctional areas is search and discovery. As most of us have unfortunately learned first-hand, when we search for things in the search window of an online store, it's almost always the case that the results don't have what we want.
When we browse as we might in a physical store, because we are not sure of what we want, all too often we are not prompted with pictures of things we might actually like to buy. They may be there -- we typically visit sites because we either already know them, or have seen something we like elsewhere -- but nevertheless, finding what we might actually like to buy can take a lot of time, and in many cases may never happen at all.
Eli Finkelshteyn, Constructor's CEO and founder, says that one of the issues is that search and discovery are often built as static experiences: they are designed to meet a one-size-fits-all model where site architects have effectively guessed at what a shopper might want, and built for that. This is one area that Constructor has rethought, specifically by making search and discovery more dynamic and responsive to what's happened before you ever visit a site.
"One of the things wrong with product discovery was that prescriptively sites show you what they think is valuable to you," he said. "We think the process should be descriptive."
As an example, he talked about Cheetos. Sometimes people who might want to buy these start out by navigating to the potato chip category. In many static searches, those results might not include Cheetos. Some people might abandon their search altogether (bounce), but some might navigate away from that and search specifically for Cheetos and add them to their carts. In a descriptive and more dynamic environment, Finkelshteyn believes that these two flows should subsequently inform all future chip searches.
"We take into account as much data as we can learn from, and that list is always growing," he said. "The goal is anything we can learn from should become part of the user experience."
Google is the current, undisputed leader in the world of search, and it too uses a lot of dynamic, AI-based tools to learn and tweak how it searches and what results it produces.
Interestingly it hasn't extended as much of this to third parties as you might think. The company wound down its own site search product in 1997 and now if you look for this you are redirected to the company's enterprise search suite.
There are however others that have also stepped into that void to provide services that compete with Constructor, including the likes of Algolia, Yext, Elasticsearch and more. Finkelshteyn believes that among all of these, none have managed yet to provide a service like Constructor's that learns and adjusts its results constantly based on search and browsing activity.
This is one reason the company has stood out with its customers, and with investors.
"Constructor has built a search and discovery platform that is truly making a difference for enterprise retailers. They are providing customers with comprehensive and optimized search and discovery that is unmatched in the market," said Sri Rao, Constructor board member and general partner at Silversmith Capital Partners, in a statement. "We are excited to partner with the Constructor team as they continue to revolutionize search and discovery capabilities for retailers across all platforms."
Looking forward, there will be some interesting opportunities ahead for Constructor to take its search and discovery tools to new frontiers. These could include ways to bring in and account for shoppers on third-party platforms -- currently Constructor does not power experiences on, say, social media, so that is one potential area to explore -- as well as more offline experiences, critical as retailers and shoppers take on more blended approaches that might start online and finish in stores, or proceed the other way around, or find users walking around with their phones to shop even as they are in physical stores.