B2B Series Challenge 2: Complex Part or Product Numbers

According to Forrester, B2B eCommerce in the U.S. will hit $1.2 trillion by 2021, seeing a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 7.4% over the next four years. It is therefore essential that B2B businesses optimize the experience for their customers online. B2B sites have typically been known as less usable, but it is time for them to catch up with B2C and make it really easy for customers to do business. B2B eCommerce has unique complexities, which present unique challenges and therefore require a unique set of best practices. We will explore these challenges in our B2B blog series and offer advice and solutions to ensure that your B2B site delivers a superior experience.

The complex world of part numbers

B2B shoppers are much more likely to search using specific product numbers. B2B product numbers can inherently be more complex and therefore be easily mistyped or forgotten. B2B product numbers often take the following forms:


  • Groups of numbers, letters and other characters, such as hyphens and slashes
  • Long numbers with some kind of structure, e.g. 123 4567 89


If your customers can’t find parts or part numbers on your eCommerce site, they will be calling your customer services, which is expensive to you and inconvenient for them. Worse still, they may take their business to your competitors.

Complex product numbers affect many businesses, but some more than others. Take print cartridges for example. It is important for customers to find the exact cartridges that are compatible with their printer. We used a print cartridge site to search for cartridges for a Kyocera Ecosys printer:

As you can see, the printer model numbers are made up of very similar combinations of letters and numbers. Scrolling through the list revealed 3 times this number of results.

A mechanic who needs a car part for a job the next day is probably not going to be the person typing the part number into a search box. Someone in the office will be asked to order the part, and when they can’t find the part due a slight error in the part number, they have to get on the phone to the supplier. This means it costs the car parts vendor more to service the customer.

The challenge for B2B eCommerce sites is clear, but what can be implemented to avoid the need for calls to a customer service line or using a competitor’s site?


EasyAsk’s ‘Begins Expander’

A ‘Begins Expander’ is EasyAsk functionality that attempts to predict the most common inaccuracies a ‘searcher’ will make when attempting a product number search using EasyAsk’s advanced autocomplete functionality. A Begins Expander can be set up for any field, but is most relevant for a part or product number field. It can be configured to start or finish on any number of characters and it will index the part number as the start parameter, then plus 1 character, then plus 2 characters, and so on until the end parameter. For example, if the product code is 1234567 with the parameters 3 and 7, the Begins Expander would index:






This is an extremely effective technique as it is incredibly helpful to a searcher that doesn’t remember the entire product code, they can just start to type the beginning of the code and EasyAsk’s Search As You Type (SAYT)/autocomplete will show all possible product codes.

                begins to suggest product numbers after 2 characters are typed


EasyAsk’s ‘Part Number Expander’

A ‘Part Number Expander’ is especially useful for complex part numbers that include a combination of letters, numbers and other characters. A user might forget whether characters were separated by a hyphen or a slash, or might omit letters on the end. The Part Number Expander takes each part number and creates all the different versions of terms and inserts them into the searchable index so that if any of them are searched for, they will match to the product. The code is broken up into parts and the separators are substituted in all combinations. For example, if the part number is


the Part Number Expander would index:

123-HC-1345AB                                                                        123

123/HC/1345AB                                                                       123-HC

123/HC-1345AB                                                                        HC

123 HC 1345AB                                                                          1345


amongst many other combinations.

If a customer types a part number that is slightly different (for example, using spaces instead of hyphens) the correct part will still be found. demonstrates how the Part Number Expander can avoid no results for customers:














The part number for this disc brake set is 25-261256-1. If a customer replaces the hyphens with spaces, the exact product is still returned.

We’ve got you covered

The 2 capabilities above are just a part of the EasyAsk experience. There is no effort to use them; no extra coding is needed because EasyAsk does it automatically. When your data is read the part numbers are broken up based on rules that are built internally. EasyAsk will scan the part or product numbers, and wherever they change from or to alphabetic or numeric, they will be treated as a separate part.


EasyAsk making all the difference

An EasyAsk customer recently encountered problems with product number variations and saw outstanding results when they implemented EasyAsk’s software:

EasyAsk was approached by a library and schools supplier who was a printed catalog business before launching online. Their web system only used the internal product codes, which were just numbers, whereas in the catalogs, each number had a 2-character prefix with a hyphen. So, if the internal product code was 1234, in the catalog it could be rx-1234, kb-1234, depending on the different catalogs that were issued throughout the year.

The company found that a teacher or librarian would look in the catalog, find the product they required, and then when they tried to find the product online, the search failed every time. Because the printed catalog didn’t match what was in the database, the user wouldn’t be able to find what they wanted, and so would call the helpdesk who would take the order over the phone.

When the company implemented EasyAsk software, they provided EasyAsk with their data, plus a list of catalog prefix and suffix codes for those printed catalogs that were in circulation. As part of the build process, EasyAsk indexed product numbers with and without prefixes and suffixes, and with and without hyphens. From the moment that the EasyAsk system went live, customers were able to find the products using the catalog codes and calls to the call center were reduced by half.

EasyAsk made a huge difference in this case, can your website do this?


B2B Experts

EasyAsk offers the only merchandising tool designed exclusively for the rigors and challenges of B2B eCommerce. EasyAsk can be configured for any platform, either commercial or built in-house.

EasyAsk has long served the B2B customer segment and over 200 B2B distributors have chosen us to power their B2B eCommerce sites, including: HD Supply, Aramark, Alphabroder, Demco, Kaman Industries, Tacoma Screw, and Crown Packaging.


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