I’m on the search for black and white striped socks. You know, ala Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz? To go with my ruby red slippers…er, I mean, ruby red glittery clogs that I created during last Sunday’s football game. And no, I am not dressing up as the Wicked Witch for Halloween, although I suppose my quest for black and white striped socks and the glittery shoes would make a lot more sense that way. Anyway, I digress.

I’m on the search for black and white striped socks. Last night, using my trusty smart phone, I determined that Target had exactly what I was looking for and decided to conduct further research from my desktop computer in the morning.

Fast forward to this morning.

I went to Target.com and tried to find the socks that I so gleefully discovered last night. First I typed in “stripe sock” and limited my results to just those from the Women’s department. Ten results came back and none of them were my stripy socks.

E Commerce Search Failure stripe sock

Hmmm. Nothing.

Racking my brain, I tried again with “black and white sock”—again limiting the results to only the socks from the Women’s department. Surely this would work.


E Commerce Search Failure Black White Sock

Six results came back and none of them were my black and white striped socks. At this point it occurred to me that the socks had been described as “preppy” on the Target site and decided to try searching on this highly unique term in hopes of finding my socks. Here’s what the site returned as results:

E Commerce Search Failure preppy sock

Voila! The socks I was looking for finally appeared in the search results! Here’s the product page for the infamous black and white striped socks:

E Commerce Search Failure Black White Preppy sock

A closer look at the product listing shows that Target listed this pair of socks as “striped socks” where the other striped socks were listed as “stripe” socks on their site. What confuses me is that the Target.com search engine didn’t find “stripe” on my sock page as a subset of the word “striped.” (It found the word “sock” as a subset of the word “socks.”) The first question is why a small subset of striped socks are named and / or tagged differently from the rest of the striped socks on the site. The second question is why Target.com isn’t utilizing an intelligent search function that recognizes a search for “stripe sock” should return all results for socks with stripes or listed as “striped.”

Just for fun I conducted one last search for “striped sock” in the Women’s department and this is what I got back:

Ecommerce Search Failure striped sock

The B2B Ecommerce Lesson

Your customers aren’t always going to know exactly how to find the product they are looking for. They might not have the product ID number or know the exact search term to use to bring up the result they want. Employing an intelligent search functionality that helps a customer locate the item they want is essential for ecommerce success. If a customer searches for an obscure search term, your search capability should be able to make an educated guess as to what they are looking for. For example, in a perfect world, Target.com’s search engine would have recognized that I was searching for socks with at least one stripe based on “stripe sock” and logically offered up the “striped sock” results in addition to the results for “stripe sock.”

Long story short is this: If your customers can’t find what they are looking for on your website, they won’t be able to buy the item from you. If they don’t think you offer an item, they will find a competitor who can and will. Robust search capability ensures that you are ready to meet customer needs as effectively as possible.