May 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

Opening Doors

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“It makes more sense for retailers to load a portion of their catalog into comparison shopping engines because it focuses their marketing strategy for that channel, which can change quickly,” explains Kusmer.

Despite all the advances in integrating site search across the retailer’s e-commerce platform, consumers still look to the application to do what it does best: return relevant results based on their search strings. Keeping that in mind, Lillian Vernon has expanded the dictionary of its site search to accept product descriptions. The change has reduced the number of search queries returned with no results by 3% and increased conversion on search queries returned with results by 14%. Overall, about 20% of Lillian Vernon’s web sales are initiated after successful site searches.

New relevancy

“We increased the relevancy factor of the search string, which lets us see which items need to be bumped up in the rankings based on the attributes entered,” Montella says.

Previously, customers could only type in a few words and wait for the results before refining their search, which often meant working the navigation bar. “Now we are allowing people to enter more data so they can come as close as possible to asking a question,” she says.

Refinements are also being made that streamline the results pages based on the Internet connection used by the customer. Bluefly has modified its site search to feed customers connected via dial-up services pages with as few as nine results to hasten the download. The change was made after Bluefly learned that about 16% of customers shopped using dial-up connections.

“Showing these customers a smaller selection in the results page creates a better shopping experience,” says Promisel. Consumers using high speed connections can opt to see as many as 72 items per page. “It lets them navigate the search results faster,” he says.

Looking ahead, retailers say it won’t be long before they begin using site search for customer service functions. One application on tap is tying search functionality to supply chain management for order tracking and helping retailers better understand sales patterns for future stocking of inventory. “It’s functionality we are looking at,” says Brad Sockloff, vice president of e-commerce for Lillian Vernon.

While the rapid advances in site search may seem stunning, retailers know they have only scratched the surface of the technology’s power. “The door to using search to create a more satisfactory customer experience and influence back office efficiencies is just being opened,” says EasyAsk’s Holgate.

Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Ill.-based freelance business writer.

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