Advantage improves searches

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Federal shoppers using the General Services Administration's GSA Advantage online ordering system now have more ways to refine their product searches.

Officials have spent the past several months implementing new technologies to improve the search and retrieval capabilities, said Al Iagnemmo, director of GSA's E-Business Division.

GSA Advantage gives buyers access to GSA Schedule contractors. It works like a commercial e-commerce site: Buyers can find products offered by various vendors, compare them and order them from the site.

The agency has added software to automatically categorize products. Before, they were not categorized at all, so a search on a common word such as "paper" could bring tens of thousands of matches for products that had that word in their listings. With more than 7 million products listed, a common keyword can bring an avalanche of results.

Now users can browse by category and narrow searches to filter out unwanted items. The site also no longer requires users to log in to conduct a search.

The site has already seen a significant increase in the number of searches per day, from 150,000 to about 250,000.

GSA Advantage has had $2 million in sales per day for the past two weeks, he said, a level normally not reached until the final two or three days before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, Iagnemmo said. However, it's impossible to know how much that increase is due to the improved system and how much to the approaching fiscal year's end, he added.

"We had hoped if [users] could search and find things faster, they would want to search more and buy more," Iagnemmo said. "We have no way to quantify that."

When fiscal 2005 starts Oct. 1, GSA officials will be able to get a better measurement of the difference the improvements are making, he said.

"October will be really dead, but we'll compare November this year to November last year to November the year before," he said. "We think that the word is out that the system is much easier to use. You can find the proverbial needle in the haystack now."

GSA implemented the enhancements in August, he said.

"We've gotten nothing but great remarks from customers over the past few weeks," he added. "We're not used to that."

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