January 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

How search guides less-experienced online shoppers to a sale at Joann.com

A new search tool is key to helping less experienced shoppers find products at Joann.com. “We have to get her to what she is interested in quickly because she doesn’t have the bandwidth or the experience on the Internet,” says a Joann.com executive.

Most online retailers know the importance of the search function in directing customers as quickly as possible to the right merchandise. But even as important as it is to most, search is more important for some retailers than for others.

Take Joann.com. “Compared to the rest of the industry in Internet experience and e-tail usage, our customers are at the tail end of the curve,” says Linsly Donnelly, COO and co-founder of Idea Forest, which operates Joann.com and is partly owned by Jo-Ann Stores Inc., the fabric and craft supplies chain. And so the search experience cannot be an obstacle to shopping. “We have to get her to what she is interested in quickly because she doesn’t have the bandwidth or the experience on the Internet,” she says. The typical Joann customer is 47, middle income, Donnelly says.

Last week, Joann.com replaced a home-grown search function with the search and navigation product from EasyAsk Inc. While Donnelly says Joann.com does not have enough history with the product yet to measure its effectiveness, early feedback is positive. “We’ve gotten e-mails from customers saying how easy it is to find products on the site,” she says.

The importance of search cannot be overstated, Donnelly says. Many crafts enthusiasts engage in more than one craft, and so a successful shopping trip to buy scrapbook supplies, for instance, could encourage the same customer to shop other areas. “Search is strategic,” she says. “We drive loyalty and repeat buying with better targeting.”

The new search tool at Joann.com displays not only results, but also sorts them by brand, price, material and other criteria, as do other search tools. However, it also allows shoppers to drill into results without having to enter refining terms themselves. So, for instance, a customer who searches on “scissors” will see results and sorting by other criteria. But she will also see subcategories by use, for instance, scissors for kids, crocheting or scrapbooks.

The results are also displayed by merchandising criteria, with the products that Joann wants to promote displayed prominently. “EasyAsk gave us the foundation; now it’s up to us to merchandise against the platform,” Donnelly says.


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