In this third piece of a five-part series, we’ll cover the searchability and categorization of your ecommerce site and how putting yourself in your customers’ shoes helps users find exactly what they’re looking for.
Create logical product categories
Adheare to the KISS principle. Despite have millions of products for sale, Amazon.com has split them all into 9 basic categories. Less is better on the parent level of categories. If you have less than 2 items in a category, you don’t need it; bundle those items into another one.
If applicable, include categories that are broken down along audience lines: Men, women, junior, children, age, maternity, petit, plus. Or by utility: makeup, skincare, fragrance, bath & body. If you are promoting discounted prices, be sure to include sub-categories within each for new arrivals and clearance.
Allow users to sort and filter the results on the category page
No matter how homogenized your products may be, filters and sorting options are important to online shoppers.
At the very least you can apply filters based on price and product rating. For more varietal products, you can have many, many options from size to occasion, material to brand. Some more interesting and unique options I’ve seen include filters for “Eco-friendly”, “Made in the USA”, “Employee Recommended.”
Allow users to apply multiple filters within the same group at once. Make it easy to delete applied filters; include a “Clear All” option.
You don’t have an infinite amount of screen space to list out your filters if you have a large variety like the Zappo’s example. Allow for collapsible options or perhaps only show the most popular adjectives and a “Show More” link to view the rest. If your filters are large in number, consider adding a “Save this Search” option for logged in users.
If you need some ideas for what types of filters to use, consider customer tagging. This keeps the taxonomy fresh and relevant.
Be smart about the display of your results
Be sure to include “Sort By” options for the customer. Every shopper has a different initial way of discovering the item they want: most affordable, highest selling, highest rated, etc. Generally these include Newest, Most Popular, Name, Price (Lowest / Highest), and Customer Rating. Consider these sorting options when you’re deciding what the default listing of your products will be on each category page.
Some ecommerce sites allow users to view items in either a grid or a list. Grid view is for power shoppers and highly visual recreational shoppers. Users are able to scan grids more quickly. List view generally includes a little more information about the products and is used by shoppers seeking to compare and evaluate items at the category page level.
In the dawn of the Internet, showing only 10 products per page was ideal because it took so long to load images on a 56k dial-up connection. Nowadays, broadband Internet has enabled us to load the same amount of information is microseconds. When paginating your results, include a “View All” option. In one test from WhichTestWon, an ecommerce site saw a 35% increase in conversions when changing the default view of 10 items to 50. If you don’t have a bazillion items (because that is a number in the ecommerce world), infinite scroll is a possibility, altogether eliminating pagination.
Allow users to compare items
It’s really annoying if you have to get out pen and paper to write down product characteristics and then look for the differences between the other products. A compare feature allows users to see an overview of the similarities and differences of products on 1 page. List out the main features as bulleted items or (even better) as a table.
Clearly differentiate the products. If you’re not sure what the difference is between product A and B, how is your customer supposed to know? If you want to compare products in a meaningful way, you need to know what the deciding factors are for your customers. Purely visual features (color, material, style) can be gleaned more quickly by just looking at the product images and shouldn’t be used as comparative aspects in the comparison table. Technical specs, dimensions, and warranties are good things to differentiate. Stick to concrete characteristics and avoid abstract descriptions.
Include a Quick View option on the category page
The Quick View option is a growing trend in ecommerce. When clicked, an overlay box is opened with more information about the product, including additional photos, available colors, and product description.
Users can also opt to directly purchase an item from the Quick View box. Power shoppers love Quick Views when they know exactly what they’re looking for.
Have a robust internal search engine
Probably one of the most important features of a large ecommerce site, search capability is for people looking for things that appear to be hard to find through the navigation structure.
Users with poor search skills will typically leave a site rather than figure out how to reformulate their queries. Regularly audit your search query analytics to understand exactly how customers are using your search engine. You often will discover:
- People look for things that aren’t on your website. Don’t disappoint people who type in names of discontinued or old products. Show them current products that correspond to these older ones. Do the same if people type in your competitors’ product names. Often, people searching for discontinued items aren’t looking for that exact product, but simply a replacement.
- People don’t use the same words you do. Expand your vocabulary on product descriptions. You can also make your search feature smarted by hooking it up to a thesaurus.
- People suck at spelling. In an audit, you’ll find that people search for “sandles” and “sandels” and not “sandals.” Invest in search software that automatically corrects spelling errors or suggests alternatives.
Auto fill search bars reduce spelling errors and increase conversions by offering instant feedback on search queries. You can even include brief product information in the results.
The Search Results Page
Don’t neglect your search results page. Offer the same sorting options as the category pages did: filters, sort by options, and grid/list display views. Be sure to also include a sort option to filter by “Most Relevant.”
Be sure that people searching for items like “returns, shipping, contact us” are directed to those specific static pages and not product pages.