Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Value of Intra-Site Web Search: A Personal Example

I’ll do a real post later today or more likely tomorrow, but I thought I’d quickly share a recent personal experience that illustrated the importance in e-commerce of really good in-site search.

By way a background: having a good search capability is one of those Mom-and-apple-pie truths that everyone fully accepts in theory, but not everyone bothers to actually execute. So perhaps being reminded of the real-life value of doing it right will inspire some reader—maybe even YOU—to take another look at what you’re doing and how to improve it.

Anyway, I recently needed a notebook PC with a powerful video card for gaming on short notice. Or, at least, one of my kids did. He quickly found a Web site that had an excellent ranking of the video cards. But there are many dozens of cards even in the high-performance category, so I couldn’t just type them all into a search box, either on Google or within an e-commerce site. Nor did video cards within a given unit necessarily show up in search results even when I tried entering them individually.

To make a long story short, we found that on-line computer retailer NewEgg had a “power search” option that give checkboxes for what are presumably all available options in a wide variety of system parameters—product type, manufacturer, series, CPU type, CPU speed, screen size, wide screen support, resolution, operating system, video card, graphic type, disk size, memory, optical drive type, wireless LAN, blue tooth, Webcam and weight. This meant I could click off the video cards I was looking for, as well as other parameters such as screen size and weight class. The results came back, and that was that.

We weren’t necessarily thrilled with the product choices at NewEgg, and there were several minor snafus that left me a little annoyed with them. But I couldn’t find any other site with a way to efficiently locate the systems I needed. So they got the sale.

(In case you're wondering: yes I would order again and, for all you Net Promoter Score fans, I suppose I would recommend them if someone asked. But they missed an opportunity to become my preferred vendor for this sort of thing, a nuance the Net Promoter Score would fail to pick up.)

I suppose there is a slight marketing technology angle to this story as well. NewEgg has to somehow populate its checkboxes with all that information. They must do this automatically since it constantly changes. This requires parsing the data from specification sheets into a database. As data extraction challenges go, this isn’t the hardest I can imagine, but it’s still a bit of work. It should be a good use case or case study for somebody in that industry.

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