Bing Continues Making Changes to Shopping Search Experience

December 4, 2013

An article titled Bing Sunsets Shopping Search, Integrates Directly Into Web Results on Search Engine Watch offers some insights into Bing’s attempts to improve its shopping experience. Bing announced in August that they are working to improve shopping results and more recently that they are retiring the “dedicated shopping experience” in favor of a user intent model.

The article explains:

“Using Bing Snapshot technology, certain search queries will return snapshots of various products in the right side column. Clicking on these products will produce a different result set of vendor sites that sell that particular product. Those results will also contain a carousel of similar products or models directly under the search box. Reviews, product specs are also included as snapshot information in the sidebar, as are prices from various vendors who purchase Bing ads.”

Bing is working to gain on Amazon, the company to beat worldwide when it comes to online shopping. Bing’s user intent plan is shaped around logical connections between queries and product comparisons. Bing is trying to move away from keywords and toward understanding what the user really wants. The integration of shopping results into the main experience is meant to provide for an improved proficiency.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 04, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Measuring Customer Loyalty Is Easier On the Web

November 7, 2013

Physical retail stores keep track of their customers with complex e-commerce systems from loyalty programs to surveys, but their digital counterparts have a much easier time of figuring out their customers’ shopping habits says “How Loyal Are Your e-Commerce Customers?” from Woopra. The article points out that it is much harder and more expensive to attract brand new customers than it is to retain older customers because they are experienced with the store and can often act as an advertising mouthpiece.

Retaining customer loyalty is not difficult for an e-commerce Web sites if the implement a few analytical features. Monitoring a basic retention report will show how long and often customers engage on a Web site. Another way to use the retention report is to track how long it takes customers to come back and make additional purchases after their initial one.

It is very important to understand which marketing campaigns attract the most loyal customers. This will allow online retailers to net the biggest profit:

“Many marketers find that customers sourced from different campaigns have varying degrees of engagement and loyalty. This is largely due to the nature of each channel and how customers engage with you through that channel. Oftentimes we rely on guesswork or assumptions to determine which channels will bring the highest quality leads. Yet sometimes the numbers tell a different story, or at least give you hard data to back up your estimations.”

The magical tool here is a retention report. Retention reports hold all the answers to retaining online customers. Why can it not be that simple for physical retailers? In a way it often seems too simple that a retention report holds all the answers. What about customer reviews of products and social media streams that discuss an e-commerce retailer? Can a retention report attract these?

Whitney Grace, November 07, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

Commerce Search Gets A Tad Bit Better With Enhancements

August 31, 2013

What is the difference between an enhancement and an upgrade? An upgrade indicates a whole new system and solutions for bugs. An enhancement implies that the current piece of software works well, but it is only being made better. Exorbyte, a commerce search application, announced its “Enhancements and Optimizations In July 2013.” The enhancements and optimizations for Exorbyte come in the form of two new features. The first feature is face normalizations that allows users to map different spellings and variations under a single facet value. Another cool thing about this feature is that users can specify the number of times an individual facet value appears in a search. This can push rarer data into search results and limit alternate forms of a query.

Here is the neatest new feature for query-based ranking:

“It is now possible to influence the ranking based on the query itself, allowing for even higher result relevancy and hence conversions. In a global ranking rule search terms can be defined that trigger this ranking rule to come into effect. For example, you can specify that the ranking rule “boost the category toy” is only activated when the query contains the word “ball”. If the query term was not used as a restriction, the category “toys” would always be boosted. For example if the query term was “golf” toy golf products would be placed on top, although users might expect professional equipment, so that this rule should not apply. So the query-based ranking allows you to tune the relevancy in cases.”

Putting the intelligence in intelligent search. It also reminds me of using an auto-tuner to pick up the proper frequency. Features like these help normalize search and make the results useful to the user. Exorbyte asserts it can eliminate the need for facet normalization with its software.

Whitney Grace, August 31, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Beyond Search

How Redundancy Can be a Competitive Advantage in eCommerce

August 28, 2013

The recent SLI Systems article, “In eCommerce Be, really, really redundant” makes the argument that, unlike most situations, in cloud computing redundancy can be quite beneficial. This is because it prevents downtime, a known cause of inefficiency. Therefore, redundancy is actually a competitive advantage.

The article explains:

“Downtime is especially detrimental in eCommerce; online buyers can be ruthless when they encounter it. Surveys by Akamai and Gomez.com show that among shoppers who have trouble with a web site’s performance, 79% will never return to buy from that site again. Plus, 44% say they would tell a friend about their poor experience. Even a few minutes of downtime can result in dozens of lost customers on an ordinary day. Imagine the effect of downtime during a peak shopping day like Cyber Monday!”

The article goes on to explain other situations where redundancy has been used to prevent both natural and technological disasters. While redundancy may be a plus for eCommerce businesses, how will it impact Google’s indexing?

Jasmine Ashton, August 28, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Beyond Search

Interview with CEO as SLI Systems Goes Public

July 3, 2013

SLI Systems is now listed on the New Zealand Exchange. CEO Shaun Ryan shares his thoughts on this and the enterprise search market in this Double Shot Interview that Interest.co.nz has posted to YouTube. In the 17-minute conversation with interviewer Andrew Patterson, Ryan is full of confidence as he shares his thoughts on the future of his company and his industry.

See the interview for more, but here are a few highlights. Ryan acknowledges that his company’s biggest competition is Endeca, who he says is the only company to surpass SLI. They actually found it helpful when Oracle bought Endeca, saying that move opened a “hole in the market.” Interesting.

Customer service is a priority for SLI. Since their business follows a SAS (software-as-a-service) model, customer retention is key, so taking good care of the best ones is “vital,” says Ryan. Besides, the company has gotten some of their best ideas from listening to customer suggestions.

SLI’s decision to go public comes after an average of 30 percent annual growth over last five years. The company considered going the private-venture-capital route, but the best options there would have required a move to the U.S. Though Ryan describes the process of becoming publically listed as difficult (and stresses the importance of a good CFO), he says it was worth it. Patterson asks, How big could the company grow? Ryan responds:

“We see there’s a lot of room for growth in ecommerce. Ecommerce is growing globally, in every country. The U.S. is the world’s largest ecommerce market, but it’s also growing in every country in the world. And you’ll find this, you’re shopping more online, your friends and family are shopping more and more online, that’s just a worldwide phenomenon, so we see there’s a lot of potential. And I’m sure, once you look at it, you’ll notice that search on a lot of websites is really poor, and you’ll sort of get a feel if you go and have a look at a few different websites, you’ll get a feel for how much of a need there is for our sort of services.”

We agree, there is no shortage of retail sites crying for improved search functionality. When asked what SLI hopes to achieve over the next five years, Ryan replies quite sensibly that they hope to continue to grow, pushing into more markets since “the whole world needs better search.” At the moment, SLI serves customers in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil. Next in their sites is Japan, but Ryan emphasizes that they get customer requests from a number of other countries.

The interview concludes with Ryan’s thoughts on cultivating New Zealand’s tech industry. His two suggestion: turn out more qualified computer science graduates (that sounds familiar), and celebrate the success of companies who have done well. That is a category in which SLI Systems is happy to claim membership, and they show no signs of slowing down now.

Cynthia Murrell, July 03, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

More Amazon Fees May be on the Horizon

May 16, 2013

According to CRN, “Growth Concerns Dog Amazon” and it may affect its clients across the board. The company’s stock sank 6% in recent markets and it only reinforces concerns for the company’s continued expansion. In the United States, Amazon is the largest Internet retailer, has seen slower revenue this quarter and it is not taking off in other countries. Amazon looks all right in its long-term plans, however. It continues to expand its digital products as well as SaaS capabilities that project well.

Amazon continues to steal business from physical retailers, even though they have found ways to reclaim some of the market. Amazon stock is trading quite high, but third-party (3P) sellers are generating profit:

“First-quarter 3P unit growth was 33 percent, down from a 40 percent growth rate in the first quarter of 2012, according to Ken Sena, an analyst at Evercare Partners…. In a 3P transaction, Amazon books commissions from third-party sales on its marketplace as revenue. That revenue is almost all profit, so as the 3P business has grown, Amazon’s gross profit margins have expanded.”

Amazon has spread itself thickly across many markets, so it might be seeing slow growth at the moment but it will pick up again. The company has stability, but in order to reclaim the lost profit they may look at raising fees. Tack on a few extra dollars, who will notice?

Whitney Grace, May 16, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Beyond Search

Mercado Builds Marketplace App on Liferay

April 29, 2013

Cignex Datamatics is launching an open source marketplace infrastructure on top of the popular Liferay open source portal. The aim is to fill another gap in the growing open source worldwide network of services. IT News Online covers the story in the article, “CIGNEX Datamatics Launches Mercado – A Lightweight Marketplace Application.”

The article begins:

“Based on Liferay, popular Open Source portal platform, Mercado allows organizations to build marketplace within enterprise portals, extranets, and intranets. The product addresses the existing gap within the market of having a user centric collaborative space for sharing software products, reports, videos, photos, code snippets etc. . . . The company expects these lightweight products to add value to the enterprise allowing them to realize user adoption with little or no customizations.”

It is interesting to see all of the small lightweight products that are popping up and adding value to the enterprise. Open source initially made a large dent in enterprise services through the large pieces like storage and search. Open source then found its place as the go-to for unstructured data or Big Data. However, solutions like LucidWorks are trying to cover all the bases, offering a broad framework that can suit a variety of enterprises with as few addition add-ons needed as possible. Customers appreciate the strong track record, satisfying user experience, and scalability.

Emily Rae Aldridge, April 29, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Beyond Search

Online Retail Goes Old School

April 15, 2013

You’ve probably heard the theory that the world is cyclical. What happens once is bound to happen again and so on. However, we didn’t expect online retail to follow this path so quickly. We discovered more from a recent SLI Systems story, “Online Retail Goes…Brick and Mortar?”

According to the story:

“According to the New York Times, companies like Etsy, eBay, Piperlime and Bonobos, which have typically had an online-only presence, are now testing small showrooms in large cities across the country. These smaller stores, with smaller square footage than standard “big box” retailers, allow these online retailers to customers interact with products physically before they buy. These stores are not meant to house all products, but rather serve as a showroom for new or popular items. Because they carry limited stock, they are able to afford more expensive, high-visibility locations in major cities.”

Surprisingly, this isn’t the only instance of an online stalwart entering the physical world. eBay, the online auction behemoth, is also tinkering with the idea according to Internet Retailer. Is this the end of online commerce? Of course not. But what we are excited about is how some real world experience will shape the way online businesses interact with customers. Ideally, this will be a blend of shopping experiences.

Patrick Roland, April 15, 2013

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

NLP: Do Not Look at Results. Look at Pictures

April 6, 2013

One of my two or three readers sent me a link to a LinkedIn post in the Information Access and Search Professionals section of the job hunting and consultant networking service. LinkedIn owns Slideshare (a hosting service for those who are comfortable communicating with presentations) and Pulse (an information aggregation service which plays the role of a selective dissemination of information service via a jazzy interface).

The posting which the reader wanted me to read was “How Natural Language Processing Will Change E Commerce Search Forever.” Now that is a bold statement. Most of the search systems we have tested feature facets, prediction, personalization, hit boosting for specials and deals, and near real time inventory updating.

The company posting the information put a version of the LinkedIn information on the Web at Inbenta.

The point of the information is to suggest that Inbenta can deliver more functionality which is backed by what is called “search to buy conversions.” In today’s economy, that’s catnip to many ecommerce site owners who—I presume—use Endeca, Exalead, SLI, and EasyAsk, among others.

I  am okay with a vendor  like Inbenta or any of the analytics hustlers asserting that one type of cheese is better than another. In France alone, there are more than 200 varieties and each has a “best”. When it comes to search, there is no easy way to do a tasting unless I can get my hands on the fungible Chevrotin.

Search, like cheese, has to be experienced, not talked about. A happy nibble to Alpes gourmet at http://www.alpesgourmet.com/fromage-savoie-vercors/1008.php

In the case of this Inbenta demonstration, I am enjoined to look at two sets of results from a the Grainger.com site. The problem is I cannot read the screenshots. I am not able to determine if the present Grainer.com site is the one used for the “before” and “after” examples.

Next I am asked to look at queries from PCMall.com. Again, I could not read the screenshots. The write up says:

Again, the actual details of the search results are not important; just pay attention that both are very different. But in both cases, wasn’t what we searched basically the same thing? Why are the results so different?

The same approach was used to demonstrate that Amazon’s ecommerce search is doing some interesting things. Amazon is working on search at this time, and I think the company realizes that its system for ecommerce and for the hosted service leaves something out of the cookie recipe.

My view is that if a vendor wants to call attention to differences, perhaps these simple guidelines would eliminate the confusion and frustration I experience when I try to figure out what is going on, what is good and bad, and how the outputs differ:

First, provide a link to each of the systems so I can run the queries and look at the results myself. I did not buy into the Watson Jeopardy promotion because in television, magic takes place in some editing studios. Screenshots which I cannot read nor replicate open the door to similar suspicions.

Second, to communicate the “fix” I need more than an empty data table. A list of options does not help me. We continue to struggle with systems which describe a “to be” future yet cannot deliver a “here and now” result. I have a long and winding call with an analytics vendor in Nashville, Tennessee which follows a similar, abstract path in explaining what the company’s technology does. If one cannot show functionality, I don’t have time to listen to science fiction.

Third, the listing of high profile sites is useful for search engine optimization, but not for making crystal clear the whys and wherefores of a content processing system. Specific information is needed, please.

To wrap up, let me quote from the Inbenta essay:

By applying these techniques on e-commerce website search, we have accomplished the following results in the first few weeks.

  • Increase in conversion ratio: +1.73%
  • Increase average purchase value: +11%

Okay, interesting numbers. What is the factual foundation of them? What method was used to calculate the deltas? What was the historical base of the specific sites in the sample?

In a world in which vendors and their pet consultants jump forward with predictions, assertions, and announcements of breakthroughs—some simple facts can be quite helpful. I am okay with self promotion but when asking me to see comparisons, I have to be able to run the queries myself. Without that important step, I am skeptical just as I was with the sci-fi fancies of the folks who put marketing before substance.

Stephen E Arnold, April 6, 2013

Sponsored by Augmentext

SLI Systems Brightens Online Shopping

March 21, 2013

Online shopping is designed to be a pleasant experience for shoppers and LEDHut wants to make sure that its customers get the most from their online shopping experience. According to the Econsultancy Digital Marketing Excellence article “LEDHut Brightens the Online Shopping Experience with Site Search from SLI Systems” LEDHut is switching to SLI’s Learning Search. They were previously using the open-source Magento e-commerce platform.

LEDHut wanted a site search that not only improved relevancy but also helped visitors learn more about LED technology and the lighting products that are readily available. More importantly Learning Search gives LEDHut the ability to provide more relevant and tailored results to their shoppers. Not only does the solution take into account misspellings but they also offer product suggestions and the users has done a few keystrokes. LEDHut is looking forward to adding a SLI powered mobile site. Keith Scott, Marketing Director of LEDHut made the following statement:

“The LED lighting industry is still in its infancy in the UK and Europe, which means our customers need to be presented with relevant items that match their searches. Now, instead of being overwhelmed by too many results, SLI’s Learning Search delivers precise results that are easier and faster for shoppers to browse through – which also helps them increase their knowledge of LED options to fit their home and lifestyle.”

 

Shaun Ryan CEO of SLI systems stated a very important fact.

“Fine-tuned, relevant results that are generated from the past behaviour of other visitors encouraging shoppers to browse and glean information about product choices – which in turn increases conversions.”

Online shopping should be a user-friendly and customer oriented experience so LEDHut definitely with the help of SLI Learning Search definitely has the right idea in mind.

April Holmes, March 21, 2012

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

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