What I want from an online store

Amazon's great - I buy all sorts of stuff from there. But their searching interface still seems to be optimized for the books, CDs and DVDs that they started out with. It works fine if you know what you're looking for and just need the search results to decide if you want the hardback or paperback edition. But if you need a waste paper basket that fits into a particular space, a digital alarm clock with a red LED display or a shaver light/socket with an 8" spacing between the mounting holes (all things I've tried to find there) - you're limited to sorting a single department's search results by price or score and then going to each of the thousands of results one by one to see if any have sufficiently detailed information on the product page (most don't).

What I really want is an interface like Mouser's - also known as a parametric search, whereby you can narrow down by (multiple values of) all kinds of different parameters and then sort the results by various parameters as well (Mouser's great by the way - I've bought lots of bits from there and it's got the best combination of prices, interface and selection of all the places I've tried). I suspect that the reasons that this isn't done by Amazon already are:

  1. Electronic component manufacturers often make ranges of components with many parameters that you can choose independently (for example, these resistors have 7 independent parameters mentioned in the datasheet).
  2. Electronic component manufacturers (by necessity) provide much more detailed information about their product than manufacturers of consumer goods (which hitherto have mostly just had to look nice on a store shelf).
  3. Amazon sells a lot more different products than Mouser (I make it 3,489,158 for Mouser and 166,367,811 for Amazon at the time of writing).

This seems like it ought to be surmountable, if enough people cared. It would be great to see an open, crowdsourced, wiki-like worldwide database of SKUs with as much technical information as possible about each product that Amazon, eBay and anyone else who wanted to could plug in to. It wouldn't need to be perfect to be useful (Mouser's isn't) - in fact it's usefulness probably increases roughly linearly with the number of products in it.

One Response to “What I want from an online store”

  1. db48x says:

    Newegg also has a really great parametric search interface. They used to just sell computers and computer parts, but they've branched out into other areas as well. Unfortunately, their selection is still kinda spotty, or I'd use them for everything; it really is the best way to search for things.

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