Future Electronics finds Internet success

Future Electronics Inc. knew its Web site was a good way to set itself apart from its competitors, but how? The answer: a better search engine, courtesy of Endeca Technologies Inc.

When it comes to the web experience, said Rob Birse, vice-president of marketing for the Pointe Claire, Quebec-based Future Electronics, “engineers are globally treated like second-level citizens.” Future Electronics sells industrial electronic components

Instead, he said, he wanted Future Electronics’ e-commerce presence to replicate the user-friendly home experience of an online shopper. “Most electronic components sites have very little content and are mostly transaction-based. There’s little room for recommendation,” he said.

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This is endemic among Canadian companies that have taken their business online, according to Strategic Counsel lead analyst Warren Shiau of Toronto. “What a lot of larger businesses are looking at enterprise search functionality e-commerce wise, is to help go beyond providing a basic transactional experience—to providing more of an overall and individualized customer experience by managing and servicing customers as ongoing customers rather than treating them as transactions.”

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Future Electronics already had Microsoft Commerce Server and Microsoft SharePoint on the go, but needed an interface that would provide more value to its online shoppers. The company decided to enlist the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Endeca and its local partner, the Montreal-based Orckestra Inc.

The goal was for customers to be able to do complex part-number searching, as many of the components have unique characters like parentheses, dots, and dashes. Endeca and Orchestra were the right fit. “In a traditional catalogue culture with very complex products, business users want more personal e-commerce,” said Rob Swint, global lead of distribution at Endeca.

The Endeca layer would mean a user experience enhanced by more specific search results (aided by the symbols), guided navigation, and suggested products. The new search engine would also be able to better filter search results by technical specs.

Future Electronics and Endeca worked together in “discovery sessions” to hammer out exactly what they wanted their customers to find, and how, for optimal customer service and sales. The new e-commerce site had its soft launch in October 2008.

By being a slick site, said Swint, the brand becomes a resource for browsing users, and an eventual no-brainer buying destination. “If you’re able to find the best product or what you really need online, that will convert them to (feeling OK to) buy online,” Swint said.

So far, Future Electronics has gotten five times its normal amount of traffic and a small increase in sales in the months leading up to the hard launch. Birse plans to bolster online advertising to stay ahead of competitors in this down economy, and, of course, keep an eye on the site’s utility.

Said Swint: “There are relevance controls so that we’re constantly evaluating the algorithms to determine what comes to the top of the search results.”

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