January 14th, 2013 by Kelly Liyakasa

Today at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York, 27,000 conference go-ers were treated to talks from former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the CEOs of Starbucks, The Container Store, and Whole Foods, respectively.

Between the never-ending hunt for a workable WiFi hotspot, I had the chance to sit down with a few retail and data analytics companies and attend several sessions – one being “Lost in a Turbulent Sea of Data: Solving the Consumer Search and Discovery Dilemma.” If you’ve ever found yourself searching online for a product you’ve seen in-store or in a catalog, only to be met with an “item could not be found,” this session was for you.

This session brought together a panel of executives from eBay, WalMartLabs.com, GXS, and GS1 US, a global organization that designs and deploys standardization across a company’s product lines to improve efficiency and accuracy in the supply chain. According to the panelists, online stores need to enable “search” in a way that benefits both the business and the consumer.

photoHere’s an example: three different people want the same product. One person searches for “women’s pink t-shirt.” Another, “women’s pink tshirt.” And the last, “ladies’ pink teeshirt.” A company like GS1, which fosters standardization that directly impacts search results across channels, would streamline multiple search terms for that one item. In other words, there would be an optimized way to find that same product, in three different ways.

“Your brand may have an impeccable Web site, but one of the biggest challenges we have is to provide consistent information,” said Melanie Nuce, director of retail industry marketing at GXS, a B2B ecommerce and managed service provider.

Because the consumer is shopping in many different places, traditional and static product classification systems no longer work. And if a customer can’t “find” the product they want when they search, a company can’t make the sale. It’s important to “own” the customer and better meet their needs at the point of search, said one panelist during the “Revenues Beyond Retail” session.

Both eBay and Walmart Labs have turned to standardization to improve the search and discovery experience for their customers. As Fritz Model, eBay’s director of product management notes, it benefits the business because each product search yields more optimized search results, which increases traffic.

By having structured commerce classification, retailers can begin to take advantage of more predictive merchandising capabilities. Constellation Research, in its brand-new “Introducing Matrix Commerce” report, says factors like supply chain interoperability is intersecting with payment options, channel delivery, and big data and information to fuel the new, buyer-centric commerce experience.

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