February 24, 2011, 12:11 PM

Clean data organization is crucial to effective site navigation

Meijer.com learned the importance of setting data entry standards.

Lead Photo

When Midwestern retail chain Meijer Inc. launched its e-commerce site in 2008, it didn’t have clear organization structures for descriptions such as a product’s color. Meijer is No. 362 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

That meant that some of the site’s more than 100,000 SKUs referred to a color as “sky blue,” others “SKY BLUE,” and others “light blue,” said Brad Hileman, the retailer’s web design and development manager, e-commerce, at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference last week.

“At Meijer nobody anticipated what role data would have on web site,” he said. “It took a backseat when we launched because we were focused on pricing and design, and the data associated with the products online was secondary.”

However, the lack of a clear structure meant the retailer made it difficult to leverage features such as filtered navigation (Clear navigation helps bolster Carolina Rustica’s sales: http://www.internetretailer.com/2011/02/10/effective-site-navigation-helps-carolina-rustica-reach-shoppers).

“We had colors on our site that didn’t mean anything to the customer,” he said. “How many customers are shopping for an item that is ‘honey pine’?”

To fix the problem the retailer decided it needed to set clear standards, which meant defining which attributes, such as color and dimensions, it would enter in the system. For instance, it had to decide whether to note a shirt is long sleeve, Oxford or both.

There were also seemingly simple fixes, such as fixing spelling variations and abbreviations. Originally the retailer attempted to manually make the fixes. However, the issue was bigger than the retailer anticipated, which led it to develop a data-cleansing tool to automate the process.

 Because its inventory is regularly turning over, the retailer also put processes in place to prevent future data problems. That meant standardizing the way staffers input data so that marketing, for instance, handles the inputting of certain content, while other units enter other information.

The efforts have paid off, said Hileman, because the site’s can now leverage its data organization in the site’s filtered navigation, as well as for both internal and external searches.

While the process was long it was worthwhile.

“It is better to do it right and lay a solid foundation than it is to put bad data out there and have to correct it later,” he said.


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