(This posting was written in November of 2007 and posted finally today.)
(Beware of some car-speak.) I was looking for a specific part for my car because the coolant was leaking from the thermostat plug to the ground. This part was an o-ring and it fit around a plug. The problem was that I didn't want an OEM (original equipment by manufacturer) part as that part is defective and doesn't take into consideration temperature variances, hence the leaking. So began my search through the forums and I took some keywords to Google where I found a supplier. Here's the website: http://www.mcmaster.com At first glance, I wondered if I was in the correct place. But what I've noticed in many e-commerce parts sites is that functionality is high, given that you can find the part, and the usability is somewhat low. That's evidenced by sites like NAPA, AutoZone and AdvancedAutoParts. 99% of the time, you have to go to the store to get the part for a specific vehicle. If the part isn't online after executing a search (especially on obscure parts), it's either not cataloged or the system is incomplete.
Taking a look at the McMaster website, its purpose is different. Among all the thousands of different mechanical parts, hardware and software, the user begins by generating a scent using the search functionality. However, this is no ordinary search engine. At first, I wasn't sure what to type in, so I just entered the part number I found. Results came back positive and that was easy. But the kicker came in my second search where I entered "battery terminal covers". And immediately, anticipatory design kicked-in. A list of suggestions came up for me to select. There were no part numbers or items without pictures. Upon selecting the correct category, part numbers and their corresponding part numbers came on-screen.
Now THIS is what e-commerce should be! I think those other automotive vendors could learn something from McMaster.