March 18, 2010, 12:00 AM

Toolfetch customers retrieve products faster with a new site search system

To make it easier for online customers to search for products on its web site, online retailer Toolfetch.com recently switched from the Google Mini site search engine to Nextopia’s eComm|Search.

To make it easier for online customers to search for products on its web site, online retailer Toolfetch.com recently switched from the Google Mini site search engine to Nextopia’s eComm|Search.

Andrew Brown, co-founder and CEO of Toolfetch, says that since mid-February, when Toolfetch began using Nextopia, the company’s sales have increased about 20%, and customers return to the site more often and purchase a broader range of products. “We now see customers buying products like an electric drill along with an iPod. That’s because people can now sift through the web site and find what they need.”

While ToolFetch’s old site search program presented users with a long list of results similar to Google web search results, Nextopia allows users to narrow their searches. “We don’t want to present customers with products that are not hot or really relevant,” says Sanjay Arora, the founder and CEO of Toronto-based Nextopia. For example, eComm|Search allows customers looking for a cement mixer to specify whether they want a gas or electric mixer, and then sort it by price, best sellers, and also to find those that received high customer ratings.

Setting up the new system was relatively simple, inexpensive, and took two or three weeks, Brown adds. Google had provided a hardware box and enterprise search software, but the Nextopia program only requires, Toolfetch.com, No. 448 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, to provide a XML feed of its product database

Brown won’t say how much Toolfetch paid for the Nextopia service. Arora says it costs $995 a year for retailers with fewer than 10,000 products, although the price increases based on the number of products offered and search queries per month.

Brown says that when his company bought the Mini four years ago, Toolfetch only offered about 10,000 products, and considered it an inexpensive and effective site search program. Today, however, Toolfetch offers over 100,000 products, from construction equipment to office supplies, and since the Mini lacks the advanced features of Nextopia’s system, it often had difficulty tracking the constantly changing inventory. “My own staff couldn’t find things on the web site,” Brown says. “Seventy-five percent of our users go straight to the search function, and if they don’t find what they’re looking for in seven to fifteen seconds, we could lose them.”

For example, Brown says at times a customer would call with a question and give a part number, and a good portion of the time it would not come up in the Google Mini. With Nextopia, ToolFetch can just type in a basic description and navigate to the item.

In November 2009, Google launched Google Commerce Search, a program similar to the Nextopia system, although pricing starts at $50,000 a year. Google officials say they may design a cheaper version for small businesses like Toolfetch, and have begun gathering customer feedback to measure how much demand is out there. “We will work hard to make this product more applicable to a larger customer base,” says Nitin Mangtani, lead product manager for Google.

Article written by Brian Rogal, a freelance writer based in Chicago, IL.

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