Finding the Good Books: Endeca and Christian Books
Christian Books' Web site is the company's number one revenue generator, so they want customers to find what they're looking for and to enjoy the search process. "We wanted our customers to feel as comfortable shopping online as they do in a book store," says Mike Pepin, Christian Books' director of IT, "to be able browse from department to department and aisle to aisle, picking up what they want at each turn." Even more, Pepin wants a "best buy" (as the customer would define the term) for each department to leap out at every click. Endeca, which powers Christian Books' search, calls this process of searching "Guided Navigation."
Originally, Christian Books used Oracle's Intermedia plug in, but found it "database-intensive." Maintaining that structure as they grew would require on-gong investments in database servers and license fees.
"We write our own applications," says Pepin, "and we've only folded in two purchased packages. Anything we purchase has to offer a lot of value." His team evaluated other products, but found them to be "merely SQL query optimizers," that still worked off the database; they gave better reporting, but no technology advantage. "Endeca, however, utilizes its own engine, and gets logical results quickly," according to Pepin.
Endeca's product also plugged into the site's own interface, while the other candidates wanted to take over complete site navigation. Since CB's catalog is only part of what the site provides visitors—it offers articles and features, as well as books, clothing, and home items—they wanted to integrate the search function into their own existing solutions.
"Go to the CB site," says Pepin, "click EasyFind, and it's like walking into a store. You can find what you want quickly from our 125,000 products. Click the Products page, and then click on any category. You get instantaneous responses, as the system drills down to the specific products you want." The search engine does not have to search CB's entire database, so results come back quickly. This is because Endeca lets site managers dynamically classify items into multiple categories. "That way," says Pepin, "I don't have to worry about structuring our data. For example, a CD can be music or contemporary or Christmas. With a database, we learned that you can't always get inside the head of your customer, let alone predict their skill level or which browsers they might use. Guided Navigation gives us a much better hit rate."
"The reason Guided Navigation works," says Phil Braden, Product Manager of Endeca's InFront search engine, "is the product's dynamic merchandising component, that dynamically figures out in which channel a customer is shopping and then ‘features' relevant products; it suggests a ‘featured item' on each page that's relevant to the shopper's latest click." That helps the customer decide what to buy, rather than "show me 10 and show me 10 more." The seller (or publisher) sets up the logic string for any product (such as, best seller, what's new, or featured product), and InFront's self-driven engine selects the most relevant product to feature. "We can show that both conversion rate and average order size go up as a result," Braden says.
We created the concept of Guided Navigation," says Braden, "to integrate power searching with guided browsing. That way we can serve both those who come to search for specific items with those who come to explore and just ‘see what's new.' We want to deliver a totally integrated user experience."
Endeca's technology is data-driven. Thus, an Endeca site updates itself automatically, based on what is in the client's product data. Add a new category or inventory item to your existing inventory system, index the search engine, and the new item appears on your site. Endeca also offers similar capabilities to publishers who do not use a storefront with ProFind. ProFind is rooted in the same technology, sharing much of the same code, but comes with modules more relevant to publishers.
Christian Books liked Endeca for more than just search results, however. During the evaluation phase, the Christian Books team felt that Endeca's sales people were straightforward and helpful. "So much so," he says, "that the sales process was actually refreshing."
And the results speak for themselves: Christian Books can document significant savings in hardware and database license fees and, best of all, the site's customer conversion (of browsers to buyers) rate increased by nearly 20% since they installed the system.