Infoscience

Thesis

Design and evaluation issues for user-centric online product search

Nowadays more and more people are looking for products online, and a massive amount of products are being sold through e-commerce systems. It is crucial to develop effective online product search tools to assist users to find their desired products and to make sound purchase decisions. Currently, most existing online product search tools are not very effective in helping users because they ignore the fact that users only have limited knowledge and computational capacity to process the product information. For example, a search tool may ask users to fill in a form with too many detailed questions, and the search results may either be too minimal or too vast to consider. Such system-centric designs of online product search tools may cause some serious problems to end-users. Most of the time users are unable to state all their preferences at one time, so the search results may not be very accurate. In addition, users can either be impatient to view too much product information, or feel lost when no product appears in the search results during the interaction process. User-centric online product search tools can be developed to solve these problems and to help users make buying decisions effectively. The search tool should have the ability to recommend suitable products to meet the user's various preferences. In addition, it should help the user navigate the product space and reach the final target product without too much effort. Furthermore, according to behavior decision theory, users are likely to construct their preferences during the decision process, so the tool should be designed in an interactive way to elicit users' preferences gradually. Moreover, it should be decision supportive for users to make accurate purchasing decisions even if they don't have detail domain knowledge of the specific products. To develop effective user-centric online product search tools, one important task is to evaluate their performance so that system designers can obtain prompt feedback. Another crucial task is to design new algorithms and new user interfaces of the tools so that they can help users find the desired products more efficiently. In this thesis, we first consider the evaluation issue by developing a simulation environment to analyze the performance of generic product search tools. Compared to earlier evaluation methods that are mainly based on real-user studies, this simulation environment is faster and less expensive. Then we implement the CritiqueShop system, an online product search tool based on the well-known critiquing technique with two aspects of novelties: a user-centric compound critiquing generation algorithm which generates search results efficiently, and a visual user interface for enhancing user's satisfaction degree. Both the algorithm and the user interface are validated by large-scale comparative real-user studies. Moreover, the collaborative filtering approach is widely used to help people find low-risk products in domains such as movies or books. Here we further propose a recursive collaborative filtering approach that is able to generate search results more accurately without requiring additional effort from the users.

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