A Fisherman’s Tale

4 years ago, I found a new love of my life.

She was beautiful, a sleek, shiny 9ft Greys GX fly fishing rod. We had great plans, “GX” and me, long days out fishing followed by fresh trout dinners while we chatted about how we fought endless fish…

After some fly fishing tuition for me, our first trip was to the trout lakes near Junction 12 of the M4 motorway in the south of England. The man selling the tickets suggested we try the “easy” lake. GX and I were excitedly looking forward to “consummating” our relationship as we set off to the recommended area.

4 hours later, it’s time to go home. GX is still a fish “virgin”.  Never mind, most relationships take a while to get started, we can try again…

A few weeks later and we are on the “easy” lake at Junction 12 again. I watch enviously as my son-in-law Loic and his rented rod land several large trout. Maybe GX is just not in the mood, but we go home empty handed again.

“I know” I think to myself, “how about a trip to the best fishing area in the north of Scotland!” – that should do the trick.

That summer we rented a house on the far north coast of Scotland. Loic and I book a very expensive day of salmon fishing on the “best salmon river in Scotland”. After a whole day stood waist deep in freezing water wearing borrowed waders that leak, GX is still a fish virgin and I am quite frustrated. The remainder of that holiday was spent at various times in a leaking boat on a loch that the locals claim is “full of wild trout” – yeah, right. GX still hasn’t even met a fish.

A year later and GX & me try again on the River Earn in Perthshire, Scotland. “Some great fish are being taken at the moment!” the ghillie tells me as he takes a not-insignificant sum of money for my permit. We spend a day up and down the river trying all the recommended spots, to no avail.

Last year we rented the house in the north of Scotland again and my friend Steve and I try the Loch that is “full of wild trout”. You can guess the outcome.

I felt that GX and I were drifting apart, she didn’t even get taken out of her bag on a recent trip to the Isle of Skye. But I could sense that GX was saying “let’s try again Robin”, so a few months ago we planned another trip for the evening.

Loic and I headed off to the Junction 12 lakes again. The man selling the tickets helpfully suggested we buy a 1-fish ticket and upgrade to the 2 or 3-fish ticket if required.

We agreed to fish the very inappropriately named “easy” lake again.

That evening I managed to catch the back of my head, my back twice and my ear once. I lost around 8 flies due to tangles in the trees, tangles with my net, and some just disappearing – presumably due to sub-standard knot-tying.

GX is still a virgin and I am considering divorce.

As my wife suggested on my return home – perhaps I should take up knitting.

So what does any of this have to do with eCommerce? Well, bear with me…

A few months ago I decided to give GX one last chance. In desperation, I fished the easy lake until after dark.   I’m sure you already know – we didn’t catch a thing. Frustrated again and not wanting to waste time disassembling GX to put her in her case, I simply threw all my gear in the back of the car (I could sense GX saying “you’re just treating me like an object…”). When emptying the car the next morning, I found that GX had been fatally injured (snapped in half) by a heavy bag that had fallen on her. RIP GX.

I’m not the type of person to be beaten by some dumb fish though, so recently I decided to try to find a replacement for GX. Now as you may have gathered, I am not an expert fly fisherman. I have come to recognise this and decided I should look for a beginner fly rod – hopefully one that is a bit more forgiving of my lack of casting skills.

I buy almost everything online so I started looking based on a Google search for fly rods. On entering the first site (I won’t name the site for fear of legal action) I was presented with 1,040 results for the search “fly rods”. 1,040 – You have to be kidding me! I looked at the filters on the left of the screen, hoping to see perhaps a “Beginners Choice” check-box – no such luck. Here’s what was presented:

None of the above made much sense to me (especially the limited-length text of “product type”), except rod length but that didn’t seem to have many options considering there were 1,040 results! This illustrates a common problem that online businesses have with product data. It’s very easy to take feeds of product information from suppliers and quickly get those products online. Less easy is ensuring that product attributes are populated and consistent. With thousands of products that are changing every week, keeping this level of detail correct in your catalogue could take a full-time team of product managers.

I tried 4 other sites, searching for “fly rod” and trying to find an easy way to sort out a rod that would suit someone with a complete lack of fly fishing skills! Every site I visited was the same story – either no meaningful attributes or very sparse attribution.

I want to contrast this shopping experience with that offered by one of my customers, Andertons Music Co. Andertons sell guitars, drums, etc., and are regarded as one of the leading online destinations for rock musicians. They use EasyAsk to power their search and navigation and make extensive use of a really powerful feature called “Derived Attributes”. Andertons don’t get much (sometimes nothing) by way of product attribute data from their suppliers, the manufacturers. Prior to using EasyAsk they were not able to offer search filters apart from Brand and Price – they simply didn’t have the attribute data. EasyAsk derived attributes though allowed Andertons to create product attributes in the EasyAsk layer, based on natural language rules. What this means is that Andertons are able to create filters based on information that can be found in the product name or description (such as color) or simply based on the expert product knowledge of the Andertons merchandising team.

So when someone in Andertons suggested that a “beginners” filter would improve the shopping experience, it was made available within minutes by the merchandisers. They simply created rules based on the product types, something like this:

Beginner Guitars – “category is guitars and brand is xxx or yyy, less than $400”

Beginner Drums – “category is drum kits, under $500”

So when you go to the Andertons site, you will have the ability to select beginner products:

Beginner attributes are not coming from the product catalogue (most manufacturers would never classify their products as “beginner” anyway). Instead EasyAsk has enabled the merchandisers to utilise their product knowledge to specify what they believe are good beginner choices.

If only there was an online fly fishing store that used EasyAsk…

Andertons have taken this to a new level, creating attributes such as “Sounds Like”, populated with many top guitarists. They are using their expert knowledge to help their users find guitars that will make them sound like their favourite guitarist:

Mark Knopfler– “product id is 1234 or 2345 or 3456…”

Eric Clapton – “product id is 2468 or 2469 or 2472…”

The use of EasyAsk has dramatically improved the shopping experience for Anderton’s customers. This derived attribute facility provides many more benefits for eCommerce sites and I will explore them in more detail in next months’s blog.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to visit my local fishing store and speak to a real person to get the right replacement for GX. I’ll keep everyone posted!

Derived Attributes Demo


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