October 31, 2003, 12:00 AM

Beyond Products

(Page 2 of 2)

Reporting can progress to more sophisticated information such as what did customers search for and buy and what did they search for and not buy. And then even to reports that can influence inventory decisions, such as which terms are gaining in popularity and which are fading. “You can pick up information about popularity at the inventory level, but then it might be too late to do anything about it,” says Verity’s Feit. “You can pick it up a lot earlier by seeing what people are searching on.”

Informing keyword buys

The data can also be used to go beyond merchandising at the site. “You can analyze what customers are searching on to do a better job of buying keywords at search engines,” notes Kathy Ruggiero, EasyAsk’s director of marketing.

Whatever applications a retailer wants to apply search to, however, the important thing is to communicate the goals throughout an organization. “There’s always tension between the business folks and IT,” says Best Buy’s Werness. “The business people will say to IT, ‘Search doesn’t work’ and IT people will say, ‘Of course it does. Response time is sub-second.’ But it can be a long way from response time to relevance.”

Even after those decisions are made and search is helping customers find the products they want, the refinement process is not complete, experts say. “It’s important to remember that search is a living, breathing entity; you’re never done,” says Patti Freeman Evans, multi-channel retailing analyst with Jupiter Research. “If you’ve implemented search but haven’t gone back to optimize it periodically, you’ve done your site and your business a disservice.”

In spite of the online retail industry’s acknowledgement that site search is important to success, the market remains relatively small, says Forrester Research. Forrester counts 43 companies in the enterprise search market-and that includes not just retail search but all search-with total 2002 revenue of $475 million. The top five vendors, according to Forrester-Verity, Google’s enterprise search offering, Autonomy Corp., FAST and Convera Corp.-accounted for $268 million, 56% of the total market. The top 10 account for $317 million, 67% of industry revenue. The cost of site search systems ranges from under $100,000 to close to $1 million and averages $200,000-$300,000, Forrester’s Manning says.

A dynamic market

The site search market is dynamic, however, and share could change if one vendor comes up with technology that retailers want and others don’t offer. That happened as recently as the start of 2002 when Endeca Technologies Inc. rolled out its search and navigation product. It was an approach that most others weren’t offering but that now is the standard in the industry. This fall, Endeca announced 14 new customer wins.

But Manning says retailers needn’t worry about consolidation when they make their site search selections now. For one thing, the preparation of the database for site search and the basics of effective site search are transferable from one vendor to another. “Anything you learn with one vendor you can apply to another,” he says. For another thing, the speed with which search vendors get sites up can work to retailers’ advantage in making a switch. “They all talk about how fast they can get you up and running,” Manning says. “So I wouldn’t worry about making a switch because they can all get your site search operational pretty quickly.”



Click Here for the Guide to Site Search Solutions
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