Industrial Distributor Finds Industrial-Sized Search Solution

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Once industrial distributor Fastenal Inc. decided last year to aggressively expand its e-commerce business, it quickly became apparent the company needed an industrial-sized search solution. After all, its Web site, fastenal.com, doesn't hold just a mere 1,000 SKUs with four or five attributes each like a typical business-to-consumer site would. Instead, it has 200,000 products, many with hundreds of attributes.


Fastenal has 1,800 brick-and-mortar stores nationwide that offer threaded fasteners, tools and accessories for hydraulic power. The company also publishes an annual catalog. It sees its Web site, which mainly was informational until last year, "as an extension of our local service," said e-business manager Tim Albrecht. "There are the unplanned one-offs that our customers run into, and the Web is a wonderful opportunity for that."


However, the biggest complaint that Fastenal received from customers about the site was that they couldn't find what they were looking for. So the company worked with Endeca Technologies Inc. to implement a search solution in October at the same time that Fastenal updated its item tree and individual attributes for each product.


"E-commerce in the business-to-business world has lagged, but it is catching up quickly," said Rich Stendardo, director of market solutions at Endeca, and Fastenal is a good example. Challenges unique to creating a BTB e-commerce site include the complexity of the products, such as their numerous attributes and lengthy installation guides, and the complexity of the relationship between the seller and customer.


Fastenal's new site lets browsers scroll their mouse over search results and expose a premium set of attributes, then roll their mouse over that set and retrieve subsets of attributes. And because the search solution uses AJAX technology, the entire browser page doesn't have to be reloaded every time, which makes for a faster, more pleasant experience for the user and is less taxing on the database.


The new search solution also can sort through the many synonyms for an item in different parts of the country and still provide relevant results, Albrecht said.


Fastenal also uses the Endeca solution to produce custom views of online catalog pages by filtering the data, hiding what users shouldn't see and showing what they should. This lets each user have a specific view of the data, seeing only the products and pricing that are part of the user's contract without Fastenal having to create a custom catalog for each customer.


BTB marketers find this capability particularly useful because many develop products specifically for individual customers, Stendardo said. It also comes in handy for companies that operate globally, as some products can be sold in only certain parts of the world.


This year, the program with Fastenal will expand to include more merchandising strategies such as displaying companywide specials on the Web site, bringing up the specials in the category in which a user is browsing and cross-selling.


"This is really the first time that marketing has had some control over what shows up on the Web," Albrecht said, adding that the company hopes to "grow sales based on marketing to specific customers."


The Web still represents a small percentage of sales for Fastenal. However, the results since its push into e-commerce have been promising, with those sales doubling. Site registrations and the number of unique visitors to the site also have increased.


Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM News.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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