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usability research, search usability, search best practices, search report, usability best practices, white paper, whitepaper, technical report, research report, usability report, 37signals
"An impressive piece of work...Should be required reading." Gordon Whyte, E-Commerce Guide,

Learn how 25 top online retailers handle misspellings, synonyms, hyphenation, plurals, and other real-world search queries. Plus, this report is full of ideas, insights, and 22 best practices to help you make your site's search results more useful.

This report is now available as a free download. Download the 37signals E-Commerce Search Report (1.2 MB PDF)
Sample pages
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Introduction & Table of Contents

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Report Card & Key Findings

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Synonym test explained

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"I was impressed"

"I breezed through your report this morning and I was impressed. It provided valuable information in a format that was easy to digest. The best part? You folks actually tell your readers what they can do to solve the problems you point out. And you're specific about it too. So many of the reports I read are garbage and the 'action' steps they provide are so obvious or general they're virtually worthless. Kudos to you, my friend, for offering something of value."
Thomas Golembeski, Editor-In-Chief, Internet Marketing Report

NEWS: Report covered at
NEWS: Report covered at

In this detailed report, 37signals analyzes, reviews, and rates the search engines and search results at 25 popular e-commerce sites.

The good and bad case studies featured in this report will serve as guides, a source of inspiration, and as a knowledge base to help you improve your site's search capabilities.

Published: January 2003
Vitals: 45 pg., 150+ screenshots, 1,000+ search terms tested
Price: $79

Reviewing search from a human perspective

People aren't perfect spellers or human thesauri. What one person calls a "coat" might be a "jacket" to someone else. Do you put a hyphen between Hewlett and Packard or do you just spell it HP? Is it a 15" or 15-inch monitor? This report evaluates how the Web's leading e-commerce sites handle the "human" aspect of searching.

22 best practices

The report is packed with ideas, insights, and 22 best practices that will help you deliver a more usable and useful search experience for customers.

The report also demonstrates:

  • The best way to present relevant results that aren't an exact match
  • How to display clear alternatives when a search attempt fails
  • How to present results for misspelled search terms
  • How to help people filter and sort their search results
  • And more!

Six "real-world" tests

We conducted six different tests per site. These tests answer the following questions from a customer's perspective:

  1. Accuracy/Relevance: Are the search results at this site accurate and relevant to me?
  2. Misspelled Search Term(s): If I misspell a search term, does the site know what I mean and provide useful results?
  3. Sorting/Filtering Results: Can I sort the search results by price, brand, availability, and/or other useful criteria?
  4. Synonyms and Related Terms: Will the site find related words and common synonyms for terms I use in my search (e.g. "coat" and "jacket")?
  5. Mixed Specifications: Can I search using mixed specifications such as gender, color, etc. (e.g. Will a search for "red wool men's sweater" show me red wool men's sweaters?)?
  6. No Results Found: What happens if the site returns no results? Will it help me or provide tips?

Richly illustrated (150+ screenshots) and insightful

Each of the 25 site reviews is presented on its own page in an easy to read and consistent layout. Each review includes six screenshots, insightful commentary, a relative rating score, and "The Bottom Line" that concisely explains what the site is doing well and what can be improved.

Sites reviewed in this report:

  • The Apple Store
  • CDW
  • Crate & Barrel
  • Crutchfield
  • eBay
  • Finish Line
  • Lands' End
  • L.L. Bean
  • Macy's
  • PC Mall
  • Petco
  • Pottery Barn
  • QVC
  • Red Envelope
  • REI
  • Target
  • Wal-Mart
  • Williams-Sonoma

Report Q&A

Who should read this report?

Anyone involved in your site's search development. This includes designers (how should the search results look?), information architects (how should results and details be structured?), strategists (what kind of features should our search have?), engineers/programmers (what sorts of things do we need to build into the search logic?), and marketing/business executives (what are the leaders in the industry doing and how can we be even better?).

What is the "technical" level of detail in this report?

This is not a highly technical report. You'll find lots of screenshots, ideas, visuals, and commentary. However, since many sites have different technology infrastructures and requirements, you won't find "code snippets" or specific technology recommendations.

Who conducted the tests in this report?

Each test featured in this report was conducted by 37signals. We did not use third parties or external testers.

Can I make copies of this report?

You are entitled to make as many copies as you wish, but you may not distribute the report to anyone outside your company, organization, or household. We'd appreciate if you would encourage your colleagues to do the right thing and purchase their own copy. Thank you.

Does this report cover simple or advanced searches?

This report focuses exclusively on a site's "simple search" functionality. We define a simple search as a single search box with no additional or advanced options. Each search was performed from the site's homepage. We did not test any "advanced/detailed search" features.

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