December 29, 2008, 12:00 AM

Pointing the Way

(Page 2 of 2)

A taxonomy is a classification system for web site content. In the case of an e-retailer, a taxonomy is used in large part to list products by category and attributes. A fixed taxonomy lists products in a way similar to a genealogical tree. Typically, an I.T. expert codes such a taxonomy by taking direction from marketing and merchandising staff. But this requires staff to make assumptions about how shoppers will search for products; and once those assumptions are made, they are inflexible.

CDW turned to site search technology vendor Endeca Technologies Inc. to unfix its taxonomy. It launched the vendor’s dynamic taxonomy in July. The technology takes a fixed taxonomy, a kind of two-dimensional organization, and transforms it into a three-dimensional system, with nodes for additional information popping off of categories, products and attributes. As a result, site search does not have to use a fixed flow but instead can shoot in all different directions, making connections between products not possible under a fixed taxonomy.

For example, a shopper wishes to purchase a laptop and case, searches “laptop 17” on, and unearths 203 products. The dynamic taxonomy displays laptops with 17-inch screens, but, because it makes connections to any and all product attributes, also displays-further down the list-cases for laptops with 17-inch screens. Similar to’s navigational search, the shopper here can move forward by selecting brand, price or other attributes to refine the search.

For this same search but in a fixed taxonomy, items like cases for 17-inch laptops might not fall underneath laptops on the genealogical tree of the fixed taxonomy. In the end, the fixed taxonomy classifies attributes in a distinct hierarchical order and consequently may require shoppers first identify the product (the laptop) and the secondary product (the case), and then conduct additional searches by brand, price or other attributes.

Endeca’s system ingested CDW’s fixed taxonomy and automatically populated the additional nodes with more information. The retailer added and prioritized more product attributes through the vendor’s software interface, and added rules through a merchandising module.

“When you have as many SKUs as we do, which is more than 160,000, you need this increased power to help a shopper get as short a list as possible to avoid having to find a needle in a haystack,” says Barbara Mousigian, senior director of e-commerce at CDW.

The results are in: CDW has realized a 4.5% increase in sales driven through site search and a 16% increase in shoppers clicking through from results pages to product pages. “This is testimony,” she says, “to having more flexibility and precision in getting to a search result.”

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