OfficeMax unit revamps search function

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Challenge: Grand & Toy, the Canadian division of OfficeMax, is a b-to-b retailer of office products with more than $750 million in annual sales. More than 60% of those sales occur online, at its English and French e-commerce sites, but because the Toronto-based company’s site search was not up to snuff, it was missing out on potential transactions.

“The search we used to have was very finite,” said Valerie Jones, general manager-e-commerce at Grand & Toy. “For example, if you wanted a laptop bag, and you searched on laptop case, it would come up with zero results.” As a result, she said, “People had a decreased sense of confidence in the search function.”

“They couldn’t find what they were looking for,” said Jones, who assumes those frustrated Web customers either called the retailer by phone or gave up.

To stem the tide of customers abandoning the site, something had to be done.

Solution:Earlier this year, Grand & Toy hired Mercado, a search company that specializes in e-commerce and merchandising, to design a site search and merchandising strategy. The two have spent the last several months implementing the new search feature, which launched on Grand & Toy’s sites in September. Much of the work involved standardizing product descriptions and tagging them with all the possible attributes and terms a customer might use.

Take the laptop bag search. In the new scheme, the word “bag” is connected with terms like “case” and “carry-on,” and the word “laptop” is associated with the words “computer” and “notebook.” This way, search results are accurate no matter which term the customer uses.

“In the linguistics engine of Mercado, we’re able to customize it to suit our needs and our customers’ needs,” Jones said.

Next, merchandising was added to the search function. When a customer searches for one product, the site search results not only return that particular item but feature related items of interest and, perhaps, offer a discount for ordering additional items.

“We can up-sell them with an ad offering 25% off glossy paper [for example] if you buy the regular paper,” Jones said. Other related products, such as paper shredders, might also be highlighted on the results page. Results can also vary based on who is doing the search.

“[We] focus the messaging based on the segment the user belongs to,” Jones said. “For example, we sell to enterprise customers, but we also sell to small- and medium-sized businesses. For the smaller companies, we might recommend the $99 shredder, but for an enterprise customer, we might recommend a higher-end shredder.”

Grand & Toy also buys keywords on Google, Yahoo and MSN Search. Its work with Mercado gives it an advantage in this arena, as well, by eliminating the need to create separate landing pages for those terms.

When Grand & Toy buys a search term and a potential customer clicks through, they are taken directly to that product or set of products without the need for a special landing page.

“Because it’s paid search, you can put whatever link in that you want,” Jones said.

In simplest terms, the search link is directed to Grand & Toys’ search function, and that in turn will perform the search and produce the desired product results.

Rather than bringing that customer to the home page, they get to the exact results they need immediately. “We’re able to give them exactly what they’re looking for by eliminating a step for them and without creating a landing page for every paid search term on Google,” Jones said.

Results: Searching on the Grand & Toy e-commerce site has more than doubled. Before beefing up its search function, customers were performing an average of 19,000 searches per weekday. Currently, customers perform an average of 42,000 searches per weekday.

Sales have increased, although Jones would not reveal dollar amounts. She did say that if one assumes 2% of the people who did not find what they were looking for can now find it, based on an average order size of $150, total additional sales would be about $500,000.

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