Specialty retailer Brookstone Company Inc. claims a 50 percent rise in traffic to its Web site since a new search method was implemented in mid-May.
Though it will not substantiate, the Nashua, NH, company also reported a 5 percent jump in conversion rates in that period on brookstone.com. The increases are crucial for a site selling an eclectic range of massage, tool, stereo and barbecue SKUs that are not easy to search online.
“It's absolutely essential because of the nature of our products and the way customers tend to use our site,” said Greg Sweeney, Brookstone's vice president and general manager of direct marketing. “Our research has shown there was a couple of areas consumers said we should improve, and internal search was one of them.”
Heeding that concern was paramount as brookstone.com gains size. Since the 7-year-old site's relaunch in June 2001 by Web developer Fry Inc., it has ballooned from 1,800 SKUs to 3,000. The catalog carries 300 to 400 SKUs, and the average store 600 to 700. It mails nine catalogs with an annual circulation of 20 million and has 262 stores nationwide.
Brookstone SKUs typically are one or two per product, unlike, say, apparel, where one product is available in many colors. Still, as the selection grows, it becomes more challenging for consumers to find items quickly online.
Like rivals Sharper Image, Hammacher Schlemmer, Herrington and Frontgate, the $400 million Brookstone's products do not lend themselves to traditional category searches online.
Brookstone and Fry turned to Endeca to offer better search functionality on brookstone.com. The Endeca InFront product also offered navigation for a better user experience.
“The search box on brookstone.com is one of the primary means by which customers find the products that they wish to research or buy, so any shortcomings in search functionality can translate directly to lost sales both online and, to a lesser degree, in the store,” said Phil Braden, product manager for Endeca's InFront in Cambridge, MA.
Fry implemented and hosts Endeca's search and guided navigation technology for Brookstone.
“This provides more effective, efficient site search because results are dynamically put into a context that shows all the valid ways to refine and explore results further,” said Rudy Pataro, vice president of technology at Fry, Ann Arbor, MI.
Site visitors now can search by price, by picture or add the product to the shopping cart — something not possible earlier directly from a search. This eliminates a step and speeds the consumer through the shopping process. They also can whittle products by category or the number of items.
These capabilities largely were less refined with the Fry-coded search functionality installed when brookstone.com relaunched a few summers ago.
Several factors came into play as Brookstone sought control over the critical components of the search process. These included the selection of item properties for display with matches, of content areas to be indexed and of user-determined sorting options. Also, relevancy-ranking rules and choice of navigable dimensions like color, size, brand, price and gift recipient mattered.
The coding and engineering for the process apply to search results pages for successful and failed searches. Of course, the way users were searching on brookstone.com was analyzed to produce the appropriate design.
Brookstone is experiencing a return on investment with a rise in conversion rates in less than three months after deploying the new search technology. This boost in conversion rate came as Brookstone ran a series of marketing promotions to drive more traffic to the site.
“In such cases, the additional visitors typically are a bit more likely to be going to the site to investigate the promotion rather than with the specific intention to buy something, thereby lowering conversion rates,” Braden said.
“And unlike the previous instance where the additional traffic met with a dip in conversion, [with new search functionality in place] the conversion actually increased,” he said.
Plans call for a post-launch analysis comparing results to pre-project data to gain a grip of the new search solution. This will help measure the success of Brookstone's merchandising strategy as it tries to create an online product experience and presentation that match the more personal found offline.
“One of the things we're trying to do on our site,” Sweeney said, “is to replicate the store situation and help the customer feel as comfortable on the Internet site as they feel in our stores or call center.”