August 18, 2011, 11:51 AM

Sweetwater.com lightens the load for customers

Added search capabilities let customers find what they’re looking for faster.

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Wanting to revamp its site search and navigation ahead of the busy holiday season, musical instrument and gear e-retailer Sweetwater.com unplugged its self-built search systems last fall and turned on a web-based site search service with the hope it would make it easier for consumers to find the products they wanted among the site’s assortment of 15,000 products.

Mike Clem, director of e-commerce for Sweetwater.com, No. 233 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, says the e-retailer wanted to quickly add functionality, and an analysis showed it would be faster and more cost-effective to buy an existing service rather than have Sweetwater’s in-house tech staff build it. “This was a fast way to get a lot of functionality, and it came down to a question of buy versus build,” Clem says. “We decided we could buy it and set it up before holiday 2010.”

Sweetwater added a web-hosted software-as-a-service version of Endeca Technologies Inc.’s site search and navigation application available from Thanx Media Inc. The application included several features Sweetwater sought to add, including predictive search, which suggests popular search terms that match a customer’s query as he types in the search box. “Predictive search is a great convenience for our customers,” Clem says. “We found it reduces the amount of typing necessary, particularly for longer phrases. It gets consumers to go there faster.”

The Thanx Media service also includes a dictionary and thesaurus that suggests to a consumer an alternate phrase when an exact match can’t be found for a search query. “We’ve seen a measurable drop in failed searches,” Clem says, meaning a search that returns zero results and forces a consumer to start over—if they don’t simply leave the site. “It’s also taking fewer searches to get customers where they want to go, and we’re seeing a fewer number of searches per user per visit.”

Navigation tools are also helping customers to quickly find the items that best suit their needs. When a consumer chooses to browse the site using navigational tabs on the home page, subcategory pages include tools that let the customer sort product matches by brand, price tier or by categories such as new products. Sweetwater.com also is adding more features to its faceted navigation, such as sorting by product attributes, for example, how many strings or pickups a guitar has.

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