Ecommerce Expo: Part 5 - Product information management and site search optimisation

 by Martin Belam, 6 November 2009

Over the last week or so I've been posting a whole series of notes and quotes from the recent Ecommerce Expo, looking at multi-variant testing, optimising shopping carts, social commerce, semantic ecommerce and ticket-touting brand building and online marketing. In this last part I want to look at two presentations, one about information management, and one about internal site search.

"Product information management: The next Ecommerce opportunity" - Steve Lovatt, Pinder

Product information anarchy

You simply can't argue with a presentation that has a slide called 'product information anarchy'. Steve Lovatt from Pindar was making the very valid point that 10 years ago, everyone viewed the web as 'another channel', distinct and separate from having a store or a paper catalogue business. People expected consumers to move from offline shopping to online shopping. However, in fact what has happened is that consumers use the channel that is convenient for them at the time. As I already mentioned in this series, a retailer like John Lewis finds that 51% of their store visitors have already researched a product online prior to purchase.

What interested me about Steve's talk was that it reminded me a little of the convulsion the web went through when we decided it was a good idea to separate data and presentation, and moved away from <FONT> tags and towards XHTML & CSS. He painted a picture where businesses had their product data for the web, product data for a catalogue, and product data in their store inventory software all held separately. He advocated having one central XML repository of product data, which can then have a 'presentation transformation' applied to it to turn it into the right view for a website, catalogue, flyer or in-store price tag. Obviously a paper catalogue would not be as dynamic as the website, but by pooling the data you could be sure that each physical iteration reflected the latest changes to product data as displayed on the web.

As someone who in the 90s who used to have a job getting a really shonky CSV file out of a UNIX stock management system for records & CDs, then had to transform it by hand into a mail-out catalogue and advert copy using PageMaker, I weep for the hours I wasted that a decent XML transformation could have achieved!

Reckless Records mail shot

SLI Systems and Tiso on 'site search'

The final session I saw at the Ecommerce expo was a joint session from SLI Systems and Tiso, about optimising site search. To be honest it was pretty standard stuff, with nothing ground-breaking. Tiso, a small company which had started in a boat in Leith, had managed to increase their sales by working on their site search. Around 21% of their visitors used search, and they had focussed on continually providing a better experience. They now find that users who have passed through search during their session were 18% more likely to buy than those who didn't.

Probably the most stunning takeaway from this presentation though wasn't from the speakers, but from the floor. The audience was asked for a show of hands of who looks at what is being typed into their site search engine. Only around 10% of the audience put their hands up. Asked if they made decisions based on their search logs, only about three or four hands stayed up. As my friend Karen Loasby put it on Twitter when I tweeted about this: "Why use facts when you have got gut instinct".

Of course it was a random sample of people, and probably biased towards those who thought they had something to learn from a session on site search, but I was utterly astonished that at a conference full of people desperate to sell goods to their potential customers, the vast majority didn't appear to be listening to what their customers were telling them they were looking for or struggling to find.

And finally...

Given that we are a relatively young industry, you'd think we would escape a heritage of crass sexist behaviour, but unfortunately yet again the Ecommerce Expo featured sponsors and companies who use 'booth babes'.

Frankly there is no place for it in 2009 at a digital trade show.

It is patronising to potential customers, essentially saying you'll only be interested in our product if the brochure is handed to you by a leggy blonde in high-heels and tight shorts. I think it is patronising and degrading to any woman at the show who is appearing at a stand on merit as part of a business, rather than for what she is being made to wear.

As much as I'm tempted, I'm not going to name and shame the companies involved, as I don't want to reward their sexist behaviour with publicity. However, I have provided negative feedback to the organisers about them, and if you don't think 'booth babes' have a place in a 21st century digital trade show, then I suggest you do the same...

Ecommerce expo sign


I personally abhor the practice of using women as promotional tools for products and services that have absolutely nothing to do with women whatsoever. It's sexist, but hey that's the world of advertising/marketing,(world in which I worked for years.)

That sounds very interesting. I had the same experience converting all catalog files into my ecommerce operations and it was a tough work. But coming to think of it, it is probably the best to streamline all product information within the company. Great post!

The "booth babes" will still be there. It is a part of advertising, a way of attracting people's attention, not the boring type.

Pretty ladies most often add credibility to your product. Use them all the time. I use them in our trade show booths applying our arthritis pain relief gel <spammy link to meds snipped>


Jack J's attempt to crowbar his spammy link into the conversation above is about as classy as using booth babes.

I tend to think if it didn't work then they would not use women to sell products, at the end of the day t is a living which we all need to make.

Indeed Alex, we do all have to make a living. I can't tell you how glad I am that mine isn't made by trying to get high PR backlinks to my spammy link directory like you appear to be doing.

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