July 3, 2002, 12:00 AM

Crutchfield beefs up its online product recommendation engine

Audio system retailer Crutchfield already tells shoppers what components fit their cars. Next, it will move to telling them what works best for different makes and models.

Auto and home audio systems retailer Crutchfield Corp. this fall plans to roll out an online product recommendation engine that will beef up its web merchandising ability to approximate the selling capabilities of its trained phone agents, the company tells Internet Retailer.

Crutchfield.com has for three years offered a “What fits my car” feature that filters search results to show shoppers only the audio components that will fit their particular car, based on information the shopper has provided on the make, year and model. The new feature will not only remove products from consideration as soon as it recognizes a user’s car, but it also will recommend the best products for the car, says vice president of marketing Alan Rimm-Kaufman.

“Today, when the site recognizes your car, we just make it harder for you to select a component that we know won’t fit your car,” Rimm-Kaufman says. “We limit the number of SKUs we present so a customer won’t fall in love with something that won’t fit their car easily. That’s a narrowing process. The new feature will go beyond telling the user what will fit to say that because he is driving Model X, here’s the system that’s the most popular, and here are the things that go with it.”

Rather than just helping shoppers avoid the pitfalls of the wrong selection, the new feature will present stronger recommendations, says Rimm-Kaufman. In effect, that’s what Crutchfield’s highly trained phone agents already do, by verbally helping customers differentiate between what will be a simple installation from a product choice that requires a more complicated installation.

Powering the current “What fits my car” and the future enhanced version is a proprietary database of more than 3,000 cars that Crutchfield has built up over the years, by measuring the relevant dimensions of new cars at dealerships and combing junkyards for older models. Now, with a well-developed knowledge base about not only what fits but what works best in each car and what other elements go with it, Crutchfield will use the information for more robust on-site merchandising.

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