May 30, 2002, 12:00 AM

Peets.com adds visualization technology to streamline site search

Getting the scoop on 30 coffees takes six pages of traditional text display, but new coffee-selector technology based on product attributes from Hive Technology Group delivers the same content on one page.

Peets.com, the web site of coffee merchant Peet’s Coffee & Tea Inc., has become one of the first online retailers to offer site search based on visualization technology, an alternative to text-based lists, with its recent implementation of data visualization tools from Hive Technology Group. The online coffee selector and tea selector tools present a graphical format that allows shoppers to view 30 coffee products and relevant specs for each on a single screen. A tea selector offers the same functionality for Peet’s 48 teas.

Customers using the online coffee selector roll their cursors over an image of small, differently sized and colored boxes on the screen. As the cursor rolls over a box, a small window with product and pricing information pops up. A new window pops ups when the cursor rolls over another box.

The boxes offer no visual image or text data until the cursor moves over them to launch the pop-up, but the size and color of the boxes offer visual cues to help the shopper narrow the choice of coffees for which he’d like to pop up more information. The size of one box relative to another indicates a bigger or smaller price, for example, while the color of the box can indicate a coffee’s body relative to other coffees on the page. Shoppers can use an onscreen control bar to change what the visual cues on size and color represent. For example, they can assign the color cue to represent the relative acidity of the coffee instead of the body of the coffee. In addition to helping shoppers sort and choose coffee, the feature is transaction-enabled.

Peet’s was the beta site for and the first online retailer to implement visualization tools powered by Honeycomb 2.0 enterprise software developed by the Hive Group. The server software transforms a database into a visually meaningful information map that represents each data element as a cell. The map can be displayed through any standard browser.

The software is based on a concept called a treemap, initially developed by researchers at the University of Maryland. The treemap is based on a hierarchical tree. Developed as a visual interface, the treemap uses simple depictions of shape, size, color and arrangement as a way to organize and display large quantities of data too cumbersome for text list display. The information on the 30 coffee products accessible on one screen via the Peet’s coffee selector, for example, requires six screens to display using the conventional search and list feature also available on the site.

Traditional search and list methods on web sites could have a tough time keeping up with the increasing volume of information sites are attempting to give consumers, say the developers of search visualization technologies. Massive data overload online, notes Yo Delmar, CEO of the Hive Group, can result in consumer indecision and lower conversion rates. “In an online retail environment, traditional list and search mechanisms simply don’t allow us to find and compare products quickly. We need visual interfaces to recognize patterns and to iteratively and dynamically compare attributes to get a match on what we need,” she says.

“This new technology provides Peet’s with a breakthrough platform that gives customers the tools to learn about our product and more easily understand their flavor characteristics,” says Peet’s CEO Pat O’Dea. “We believe these advancements are fundamentally changing the way our customers experience our web site and the way they learn about coffee and tea as well as purchase from Peet’s.”

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