|Wed Feb 5 2014 20:16:30|
Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon
By: Ina Steiner
SLI Systems' Max Bunag wrote about a hypothetical shopping experience on the company's blog in December to highlight the importance of search engines on ecommerce websites.
In the post titled, "Which Shopping Experience Would You Prefer," he wrote, "Imagine yourself walking through the mall. You want that red shirt that you've seen your favorite singer wear on the latest episode of TMZ. You've got money in your pocket. You arrive at your destination. There are two stores that sell the very same shirt: Store X and Store Y. Let's walk through the shopping experience at both."
Hypothetical Store X has an attractive presentation and merchandising, but none of the employees can find the red shirt you're looking for - but they do show you a completely different item and ask you if you wish to buy it.
Hypothetical Store Y also has an attractive presentation and merchandising. The first employee you encounter points you to the corner of the store where you find the red shirt you're looking for along with similar shirts.
"The experience at Store X describes the concept of having a sub-par site-search experience," Bunag writes. "All too often, I visit a website and type in the search box "red shirt," only to find "black dresses," "leather boots" or even worse, "no results."
SLI Systems provides search and merchandising services and technology to large online retailers, and Bunag used the blog post to illustrate the importance of an ecommerce site's search engine. "If you're not thinking about site search, you absolutely should be," he wrote.
The blog post made me think about Google and Bing, eBay and Amazon, and what kind of job each of them would do if you went to their sites and typed "red shirt" into their search engine.
On Amazon, thanks to its tight restrictions about product codes and attributes and the way its marketplace is structured, search does a good job of showing you red shirts in the results. It also provides a way of easily filtering results in the sidebar.
On eBay, search does a good job of showing you shirts, but they aren't necessarily red. And unlike Amazon, which showed all product photos with a clean white background, the photos on eBay were of varying quality. I didn't feel like I was at a department store, I felt like I was at a consignment store, which, depending on your shopping goals and preferences, can be positive or negative.
Trying to be fair, I did the same search only adding the word "vintage." Aha - shoppers who are looking for vintage red shirts may be more satisfied with the selection on eBay than on Amazon, which brought back more listings for non-clothing items in this search. But that's not exactly fair either, since Amazon does not allow the sale of used clothing.
What the exercise highlighted was that Amazon can be more satisfying if you're looking for new items and you have a good idea of what you want, and eBay may be more satisfying when you want to browse items, both new and used. The exercise was actually less about how good the search engines were, and more about the types of items you'll find on each marketplace and the kind of shopping experience they offer.
I found it interesting that my search for "red shirt" on Google only showed clothing for sale in advertisements (from major retailers), not in the search results. Surprisingly there was no Google Shopping "one box" on the page.
Searching "red shirt" on Bing returned only one link related to clothing - to find red shirts on eBay. There were only two ads on the Bing search results pages, both for Audible (non-clothing). I tried searching for "red shirts" (plural), and it brought back ads for clothing. Why Bing Ads (or advertisers using Bing Ads) differentiate between red shirt and red shirts isn't clear to me.
This is a good reminder that when you're looking for an ecommerce platform on which to sell - whether it's to power your own ecommerce store or on a marketplace - it's best to test the search engine before you commit. If shoppers can't find what they're looking for, you may be throwing your money away.
What kind of positive or negative experiences do you have when searching for items online?