Category Archives: Retail

Online Retail: Search

You may or may not know that I work in software that is mostly used by retailers. The past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about retail and supply chain. While I don’t specialize in e-commerce, due to my love of the Internet, I’m fascinated by it. Most of my interaction with online retail is as a consumer and I’m frustrated. Most retailers suck are only marginally decent at selling stuff online. But my business side knows it can be better! It can be fixed! Customers can be wowed.

I want to talk about search.

A few months ago, I painted our bathroom and we’ve been doing a little bit of remodeling. I’ve had a hard time finding a new shower curtain I like (and that Chris would be happy with). Yesterday, I found something I like at Target so I bought it and a couple matching towels. Unfortunately, the store I was in was out of the matching bath rug. No worries, I was sure I could buy it online or at another location.

So this morning, I set out to search for this bath rug at

It’s obvious to me which menu I want and I easily figure out to get to the right area of the site. Menu for Bath Rugs Bath Rugs

Because there are almost 200 items in this category, I want to narrow my search. This is where I start seeing issues. First, I can narrow by category. As you can see, the first four items are useless. To me, they’re all the same – I can’t tell you the difference between Area Rug, Bath Mat, Bath Rug, and Bath Rug Collection. Narrow Search by category

Since I already bought the shower curtain and towels, I know the brand of the product so I can narrow by brand. In this case, the brand is Threshold. But apparently Target’s web software thinks that Threshold and Threshold™ are different brands. Narrow Search by brand

These are the kind of thing that drives me crazy about online retail! Have we forgotten that people – real people – are shopping, not computers? (I get that there’s a lot of importance to making a computer-read page too but that’s a whole different discussion.)

The really frustrating thing to me is how easy this is to solve. The data could be cleaned up or we could relax the software rules that build the categories for search. My suggestion is to simply clean up the data and leave the software alone. Hire someone. Or push this back on the manufacturers to provide clean, consistent data in the first place. I know from experience that if the data is wrong on the website, it’s likely wrong on all systems across the company. Cleaning up the data in the master database will help the online customer and it will help people across the organization.

Data, data, data. It’s not hard.

My story has a happy ending. I was able to narrow my search by clicking on both brands and I found the product I wanted. Then I used my favorite button, “Find in Store” and by the magic of inventory systems, I found that a store near me has the product. Later today, I’m going to go buy it, which is exactly what this retailer wanted me to do. But they didn’t have to frustrate me in the process. Product