May 29, 2014, 4:27 PM

Barneys designs a more personalized site search

The upscale chain strives to make it easier for online shoppers to find products and see recommendations.

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Online customers of Barneys New York Inc. face challenges that might seem alien to shoppers who tend to buy from less luxurious retailers such as Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. 

Barneys carries clothes and other relatively high-priced items from European brands with Romance-language names difficult to spell for many native English speakers in the United States, says Matthew Woolsey, Barneys executive vice president of digital. With 27% of Barneys web shoppers coming from households earning at least $100,000 per year, according to—compared with 18% of shoppers on and 19% for—it makes sense to spare impatient would-be customers the trouble of figuring out those spellings and potentially losing or delaying sales.

That’s one reason the chain, No. 186 in the new Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has upgraded its site search tool, with the new features launching within the past week. Using services from RichRelevance, Barneys has crafted what it calls “personalized internal search capabilities” designed to help consumers better find what they want to buy. The tool helps complete search terms in the e-commerce site’s search box and also offers product recommendations. Neither company detailed what Barneys is paying, but a spokeswoman for RichRelevance says the service starts at $50,000 per year, with such factors as traffic and the number of products included in the search affecting cost.

Barneys needed about two months to get everything in place before launching the new features, Woolsey says. (The July issue of Internet Retailer magazine will feature a survey about e-commerce technology trends. Please click to take part in the short survey.)

The more time a consumer shops on, the more personalized the site search results become, Woolsey says. “The search results will be tailored to you,” he says. Ever-increasing personalization also stems from the algorithms Barneys crafts behind the scenes, taking into account design trends, input from “Barneys tastemakers” and other factors, he says. And those results will help alert shoppers to products they might be interested in—for instance, a new shoe line from a designer that previously might have only been selling suits. 

Data that drive the personalized results will come from the behavior of individual shoppers as well as aggregated habits of groups of shoppers. That differs from the retailer’s experience with Google Commerce Search, the site search tool that Google Inc. phased out in 2013. That site search software made recommendations based more on group data from across the web instead of individual behavior on a specific site, Woolsey says.

He had no results to share yet from the Barneys upgraded site search feature, but he said that, in general, Barneys online shoppers who type products into the site search box convert 10 times more than other visitors to The site’s conversion rate stands at 1%, according to Further plans for the site search tool include incorporating relevant editorial content and campaigns into results.

Barneys in 2013 took in Internet Retailer-estimated web sales of nearly $138.3 million, up 17% from the year before, according to Barneys launched e-commerce in 2004 and the average purchase on the site is $450.

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