Office supplies shouldn’t be so hard to find online

Grand & Toy has installed an e-commerce application designed to help business customers find what they’re looking for on the office supplier’s Web site.

Toronto-based Grand & Toy, which earns 60 per cent of its revenue from online sales of stationery, office furniture and business supplies, recently installed B2B, an Internet commerce application manufactured by Pleasanton, Calif.-based Mercado Software. B2B includes a catalogue search and storefront capability and its UniClass AutoExtractor technology, designed to increase the likelihood that online shoppers will find what they want.

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Grand & Toy decided to install Mercado B2B after a customer survey earlier this year revealed the biggest complaint among clients was problems finding the supplies they wanted, said Valerie Jones, Grand & Toy’s general manager of e-commerce. “You would never find a blue chair if it was in (the database) as aqua,” Jones said of Grand & Toy’s old system.

To help customers find items when they don’t know the exact terminology, Mercado’s B2B includes a linguistics module, which lists equivalent terms and synonyms of items in the supplier’s catalogue, said Chris McInerney, the Grand & Toy IT manager who implemented the Mercado software. Every week McInerney reads reports of online catalogue searches of customers who abandoned their shopping carts after their searches found no matching items in Grand & Toy’s catalogue. He then tries to find equivalent terms to add to the linguistics model.

Recently, for example, he added “lecture pad” as an equivalent to “flip chart paper” after a report revealed a customer was unable to find what he or she was looking for.

Jones said about 200,000 customers use the search engine, and if even two per cent abandon their shopping carts because they are unable to find what they are looking for, that would be a large untapped source of revenue.

The search engine also lets customers sort by price and find items that are on sale, Jones said, adding the software extracts and presents to the customers articles and information on office equipment, such as which paper should be purchased with which equipment. This increases the company’s prospects of selling additional items that customers hadn’t initially considered, she said.

“E-commerce used to be about delivering the right information to the right person,” Jones said. “Now it’s more about delivering the right information at the right time.”

Grand & Toy processes more than 140,000 online transactions per month. Jones said some clients don’t want their employees to be able to view Grand & Toy’s entire catalogue, so Mercado B2B lets the company restrict searches only to the products they want, or to block certain products from their employees searches.

Grand & Toy has been selling products to companies online since 1991 and developed its enterprise resource planning system in-house. The catalogue is stored in an Oracle database, which required no extra customization to add Mercado B2B, McInerney said.

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