Where Can I Buy a Boulder? Searching for Offline Retail Locations

Proceedings of the 25th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW) (to appear) |

Published by WWW - World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

People commonly need to purchase things in person, from large garden supplies to home decor. Although modern search systems are very effective at finding online products, little research attention has been paid to helping users find places that sell a specific product offline. For instance, users searching for an apron are not typically directed to a nearby kitchen store by a standard search engine.

In this paper, we investigate “where can I buy”-style queries related to in-person purchases of products and services. Answering these queries is challenging since little is known about the range of products sold in many stores, especially those which are smaller in size. To better understand this class of queries, we first present an in-depth analysis of typical offline purchase needs as observed by a major search engine, producing an ontology of such needs. We then propose ranking features for this new problem, and learn a ranking function that returns stores most likely to sell a queried item or service, even if there is very little information available online about some of the stores. Our final contribution is a new evaluation framework that combines distance with store relevance in measuring the effectiveness of such a search system. We evaluate our method using this approach and show that it outperforms a modern web search engine.