It is a common sight along open stretches of highway throughout the United States: outlet shopping. Even when you’re miles away, you know that you’re getting closer; multiple billboards dot the landscape, advertising the must-have deals. Not far from the designated exit, countless discount stores are housed in an endless series of beige buildings, looking something like a small metropolis. But once you enter the vast parking lot, the shopping experience can verge on overwhelming: with so many choices, is it really possible to walk away with what you’re looking, for as well as the best bargain?
In the online world, Overstock.com – an electronic version of outlet shopping – encountered a similar challenge. With so many products to choose from online customers don’t know where to start. Established in 1999 with its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, the e-commerce site sells excess inventory off the shelves of manufacturers, distributors, and retailers as well as returned items. The online store also functions as an electronic marketplace for new merchandise at cut-rate prices. (Its brand is probably familiar to television viewers by its signature red “O.”) As a result, Overstock.com offers a little bit of everything at guaranteed low prices-from high-end clothing designers, such as Calvin Klein and Burberry, to best-selling novels and video games. Overstock.com sought to improve the shoppers’ experience with a more streamlined electronic search. Customers would no longer have to click through numerous Web pages for the right item (essentially the online equivalent of rooting through rack upon rack at brick-and-mortar outlet stores). Overstock.com also had its bottom line in mind: the company wanted to increase the conversion rate-or the likelihood that an online consumer will make a purchase.
In order to achieve this, Overstock.com turned to Blue Fish, a consulting firm specializing in these types of problems, and their technology partner Endeca, a software company that improves the overall search experience for users. Almost two years ago, while working on a project together the two technology companies discovered that they were natural partners. With its in-depth knowledge of EMC’s Documentum, Blue Fish helps companies store and manage massive volumes of data, while the search engine expertise of Endeca allows users to find the exact information that they are looking for right away. Because the two companies have a solid understanding of each other’s technologies and how they complement one another-Endeca began to turn entire projects over to Blue Fish. “If I can’t staff a project, I can always call Blue Fish and hand off the entire customer to them and know that they’ll be able to manage the project from beginning to end,” explains Kip Bowes, Practice Director at Endeca. “Blue Fish is my go-to partner.”
Such was the case with Overstock.com. At the project’s onset, Overstock.com had a number of ideas about different ways to improve the search experience for online consumers, recalls Amy Boatman, Project Manager at Overstock.com. In response, the Blue Fish team worked efficiently to create an integrated search solution for the company that would be up and running by Black Friday (the biggest shopping day of the year that falls annually on the day after Thanksgiving). For example, if a customer was looking for a specific type of blouse and typed “silk blouse” into the search window, she would be given additional options of various price points, brands, and colors in order to refine her search, helping her find exactly what she desired.
Once the Blue Fish project went live, Overstock.com noted marked improvements in the conversion rates among its shoppers. For a second phase, Blue Fish made additional refinements to the search features and functionality-and Overstock.com customer’s online shopping experience was further enhanced with easier access to better bargains. Commenting about the success of the project Boatman said, “Their work improved the site greatly.”