A Better Way to Find Stuff Online

A Better Way to Find Stuff Online

By | April 21st, 2015

Finding and comparing products online is far more frustrating than it needs to be.  Especially if you’re trying to find the online version of a product you found in the store. There is almost no correlation between the offline product world and the online product world. I can say this confidently, because I found out from personal experience recently.

I found a jacket at an outlet store that I liked, but wasn’t really ready to buy the product yet. So, I took a picture of the tag, which had a UPC, manufacturer number, and a name. I thought surely this would be enough information to help me find the product online and buy at a later time. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I started with a search (I use Duck Duck Go) for the product name, and got no relevant results. So then I tried Google – and again nothing relevant. Then I went on to Bing, and still no results. So, my next step was the manufacturers website, and even there – no results. Next I tried the UPC – nothing. Next, the manufacturer part number – nothing! Even on the manufacturer site. Finally, I browsed through the entire catalog of jackets from the manufacturer, and found the product. I was then able to use the name (why it was different from the name on the tag at the outlet is lost on me) to find it a few other places online. Even then, I wasn’t consistently getting the jacket I wanted when I went to other e-commerce sites.

The reason behind this is actually very understandable. In the physical world we have the UPC code to help us consistently identify a product. But this code doesn’t translate to the digital world – there is no “digital barcode”. Every site that lists an item uses the identification from its internal point of sale system to identify the product, so there is no consistently. Now as humans, we can look at a product online, and through deduction and visual cues tell if it is the same as we saw in the store. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending on your views on Artificial Intelligence) computers can’t use the same method. Computers need some sort of finite and discreet machine-readable identification to tell if Product A and Product B from different sites are indeed the same. That machine-readable identification did not exist, until recently.

There is a GS1 project called “GTIN+ on the Web” that is currently in public review that will make it easier for e-commerce sites, web sites, and mobile apps to use the existing UPC (actually the GTIN for you GS1 savvy folks) as an identifier in the digital world. This entire effort was born from a product strategy presentation I put together almost two years ago – check it out here. The reason I mention this is because if you are a customer, we have implemented this capability ahead of the standard (commerce waits for no standard). Of course as the standard is formalized and if we need to make changes to our capability, we will always support the standard.

So the good news is we now can have the ability to have much more consistent experiences with products when crossing between the physical and digital shopping worlds. Which is incredibly important, because more and more, the lines between those worlds is blurring. In fact many people today don’t see a line at all, it’s just shopping.