As of January, 2012, this site is no longer being updated, due to work and health issues
Search Tools Reports
Search Engines for Online Stores and Commerce Sites
Online stores and product catalogs need a search function so
that customers can bypass any hierarchical navigation and find the things
they want to buy. It's a form of customer service, like having a knowledgeable
sales person who can answer questions accurately.
Many online stores have no search engine or an inadequate one:
when customers can't find what they want, they may well leave and never return.
SearchTools Commerce Search Checklist
- Accept multiword keyword searches, without requiring SQL commands or Boolean
- Find matches on some or all words as keywords, as well as phrases
- Better to find something than nothing.
- Allow customers to enter product codes and product brand names as well
as general topics.
- Make repeat customers happy
- Default to searching all the product information, but recognize a few
special fields, such as size, color and price (see faceted
- Include synonyms, so a search for "red sweater" will find scarlet
cardigans and magenta crew-necks.
- Include site information, such as order status and return processing.
- Index extensive product information, even if it's stored in back-end databases
- Sort results so the most likely to be relevant items come first.
- Perform user testing to learn what relevance means to customers
- Analyze your search logs to find out what people ask for and where
- Adjust the search indexing to include everything that's useful
- Format results listings to show the most valuable information:
- Emphasize the matching text using bold or colors, so it's clear why
the item was found.
- For physical products, such as clothes or groceries, show pictures.
- Show the most important elements, such as price, size, brand name
or compatibility information.
- Include inventory status, so it's clear what's available and what
must be backordered.
- For searches which don't find any matches, provide a clear and helpful
- Generate a search log, which store operators can consult for free market
- what's popular
- what's trending down
- what customers look for that you don't carry
- what misspellings and typos they commonly make.
Articles and Reports on Commerce Search
25 E-Commerce Search Engines $99 from 37Signals , January 2003
Research firm performed systematic evaluation on searching online stores.
Criteria were accuracy and relevance for simple searches, handling misspellings,
responding to "mixed" specifications (such as color, size and
material in the same search), automatically expanding to synonyms and
related terms, providing options for sorting and filtering results, and
handling failed searches where no matches were found. They found that
92% of the commerce sites (including Lands' End, Amazon, Wine.com, QVC
and the Apple Store) found relevant results for standard searches, but
most had significant problems with the other tests. Includes detailed
analysis and screenshots of the results, and rating for each site.
Talbot's, a search for increased web sales pays off Internet Retailer,
August 13, 2002
Report from eTail 2002 conference on a presentation by the e-commerce
merchandise manager for Talbot's clothing store online. She gave examples
of problems searches, such a as looking for "clutch" meaning
a purse, but getting irrelevant results. At Talbot's, installing EasyAsk
took less than a month and the search engine recognizes the context of
search queries. With the new search engine and a search field on the front
page, the number of product searches has increased 267%, while average
orders have grown 18% and conversion rates have improved by 34%.
seek improved search engines
ComputerWorld August 12, 2002 by Carol Sliwa
Report from eTail 2002 conference about online commerce sites responding to
user demand by improving their search engines. Describes how Talbot's implementation
of EasyAsk increased the average order
size when using search by 18%, and the number of shoppers who search and then
purchase by 34%. Nieman Marcus chose iPhrase
and Spiegel chose Endeca after extensive
Searching Is No Longer Enough
Internet Retailer; April 2002 by Kurt Peters
Discusses online store search engines: Mercado
, Endeca, and Netrics
referring to the 2001 Forrester
. Describes customer needs for technology that allows both searching
and browsing by category or product attribute. Includes evidence of the
good results at Tower Records with Endeca, but finds few examples of faceted
metadata usage. Includes additional references to studies of e-commerce
search engine demands and limits, suggesting significant changes from
the traditional "relevance ranking" approach. Changes include
recognizing the problems of a long search result, redirecting searches
for brands or products not carried to similar available products, sorting
and drilling down on product attributes, spelling correction and synonyms.
Seeking Search Technology
(Commentary) BusinessWeek Online, September
24, 2001 by Robert D. Hof
Quotes eminent analysts from Jupiter, Patricia Seybold Group and Forrester
to support the value of a good search engine on commerce web sites in particular.
Recommends ultrafast updates, as exemplified by FAST on eBay, tolerance
of misspellings [and typos], synonym recognition such as EasyAsk on LandsEnd
and search fields on every page, like Ritz Interactive. Also suggests using
Amazon-like recommendations and providing information stored in private
product databases to web search indexers such as Google.
Search For Success InternetWeek, March 29, 2001 by Jody Dodson
An expert in customer service for Internet business points out that fixing
the site search may be much more cost-effective than complex CRM solutions.
He recommends considering outsourcing using Ask Jeeves or a similar service;
providing a content directory as well as a search engine; matching search
form to function; knowing the audience and providing the appropriate search
capabilities (such as product codes); and explaining the search functionality
All Site Features Turn Online Shoppers Into Buyers PricewaterhouseCoopers,
March 6, 2001
A survey of 547 Internet users in January of this year found that over three-quarters
of the respondents use search features (77%). Search functionality is considered
the most important feature for online shopping by 43%, beating product information
(40%), when choosing where to shop: both features led customer service, personalization
and wish lists in selecting sites. When deciding what to buy, search functions
also pay an important role, although enlarged product images, availability
and comparison guides are more directly involved.
Up the Search Engines to Keep the E-Aisles Clear New York Times,
February 28, 2001 by Lisa Guernsey (registration may be required to
read this article)
Discusses the difficulty of locating items in online stores, referring
to the Forrester report
of last spring. Describes
the use of thesaurus tools for synonym searching and taking advantage
of database structure in online stores. Quotes the vendors Mercado
which provides search for WebVan and Tower Records, and EasyAsk
as well as the chief scientist at Verity
- Building Web
Sites With Depth Web Techniques, February 2001 by Jakob Nielsen and
In a discussion of e-commerce sites, these analysts point out that search
engines are an area that could be a strength of online business, but are generally
a waste of time. They recommend making sure that the search engine covers
the "nonproduct needs" such as how to pay, check a gift registry,
and return items. They suggest designing thoughtful results, especially when
there is no item that matches a search exactly (see our report
on No Matches Pages). Another way to reduce the number of results is winnowing,
allowing users to narrow down the list.
report on e-commerce search engines NNGroup.com, late 2000
focusing on user experience. It says very much the same things we've been
saying about search forms, results pages and search failures. Includes some
solid test data backing up the recommendations to use a search box, recognize
synonyms, accept various operators and errors, show helpful results metadata,
explain results, handle search failure, and perform extensive search log analysis.
Well worth the $45 to download the PDF report. See also Search
Tools Report on Search User Interface and User Experience.
Search Stink? Forrester Report, June 2000 by Paul Hagen
Focussed on ecommerce and B2B sites, this report describes the importance
of site searching, and the problems with standard search engines. They emphasize
that a simple term frequency algorithm for relevance rankings will often fail
to return the best matches at the top of the list. It also points out how
important content management, metadata and information architecture is for
good search results.
Recommendations include building a vocabulary and synonym listings so that
searches for a specific term will find pages with all variants and equivalent
terms, improving content management, and implementing good user interfaces
to the search engine. They even have a section on the benefits of fixing
search, showing how it makes bottom-line sense.
Cost of search, mainly for e-commerce sites, is given at $150,000 for a
search engine, $150,000 to integrate with existing databases and $60,000
for user interface and testing, along with an estimate of $4 per page or
item for page titles, descriptions, removing duplicates and creating a controlled
SearchTools Analysis of the Forrester Report
I like this report a lot: it's clear on how important site search is
and how traditional algorithms fail to retrieve and sort the results well.
However, they don't emphasize the special issues that may arise in searching
structured data (such as product catalogs), and they mix up retrieving
relevant items with ranking (so that the relevant items appear
on the first page). In addition, they don't understand how much people
like a simple search field -- it's a Web convention that is now inescapable.
And the cost is appropriate for a large e-commerce site, rather than a
smaller or simpler site, such as an online magazine, small store, or corporate
Commerce Search Engines
Page Updated 2003-03-27