Nieman Marcus Uses Natural Language Search to Boost Online Sales

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A study conducted by Nieman Marcus Online, the e-commerce branch of the luxury retailer, noted that 50 percent of visitors left the site without purchasing anything, because they couldn't find what they were looking for. "The sad thing is, we usually carried the item--it was just that the search engine didn't work well," says Michael Crotty, vice president of marketing for Nieman Marcus Online. To resolve the problem Nieman Marcus Online implemented iPhrase Technologies' One Step natural language search technology. The tool allows customers to ask questions on the site in everyday conversational language. If a user were to type in, for example, black Prada bag under $500, One Step instantly queries all relevant databases, collects the most relevant answers, and presents them to the user, eliminating the need to sift through multiple or irrelevant results. Most keyword searches can be vague, and customers may have to sort through various results pages to get to the desired product, says Andre Pino, senior vice president of marking at iPhrase. One Step is extremely tolerant of language, spelling, and usage, so customers do not need to constantly refine searches. One Step removes any ambiguity in requests and offers a more fulfilling online shopping experience, Pino says. Nieman Marcus Online began implementing iPhrase technology last fall. "The initial feedback has been really promising. Even if there isn't an exact match, users are given relevant choices of items instead of coming up empty," Crotty says. "If we convert just a small percentage of searches into sales, we will have a positive return on investment." Lauren Ramos, director of the Giga Information Group, says the technology iPhrase offers can be like having a salesperson on hand on a Web site. "User-friendly self-service technology can only be a good thing. It's like having a smart salesperson who knows the ropes available all the time, and this technology is always less expensive than hiring an actual person," Ramos says.
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