September 27, 2002, 12:00 AM

Matching search results with how customers shop at has chosen iPhrase’s search and navigation tool to update its search function so it more closely matches how customers shop by brand rather than by product.

A year ago, The Neiman Marcus Group Inc. re-launched with new navigation and a new look and feel. The re-launch was a success. “We had a terrific holiday season and a really strong early 2002,” says Michael Crotty, vice president of marketing for But Neiman-Marcus executives believed the site still was not living up to potential. So earlier this year, they looked for other improvements and decided to re-vamp the site search. “It was sub-optimal in terms of results,” Crotty says. “It wasn’t anything we were proud of.”

At last week’s conference, iPhrase Technologies Inc. announced that Neiman-Marcus had chosen iPhrase’s search and navigation tool to update the search function at the site.

The challenge in choosing a site search technology is in meeting the needs of Neiman-Marcus shoppers, which are different from the needs of shoppers at other apparel or department store sites, Crotty says. “Neiman-Marcus shoppers have a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for,” Crotty says. “They’ll go onto the site and search not just for a handbag but for a lime green Kate Spade handbag.”

Thus the search engine must be able to identify brands as well as products. Customers rarely search on a generic product with specifying a brand, Crotty says. And, as important, it must be able to suggest intelligent alternatives if the particular item is out of stock. ”We want to do everything to keep the shopper,” Crotty says. “If she’s done a search on lime green Kate Spade handbags, then she’s a pretty qualified buyer. We don’t want to lose her just because we’re out of lime green handbags.”

Crotty says Neiman-Marcus expects the new search functionality will not only improve conversion rates but also deliver a shopping experience online that is more similar to an offline shopping trip than the previous search function could provide. Neiman-Marcus has been using the search function that came with the Oracle database that the site uses. The new search functions will be operational by Dec. 1, he says.

Iphrase also provides web site search to Charles Schwab & Co., Yahoo, Gateway, LexisNexis, Lycos and TD Waterhouse.

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