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Ah, the category page - perhaps the most familiar page of the modern ecommerce website, hark as it does back to the days of post-order catalogues. With a structure based on long lists of various products, it stands, in some way, as a testament to human beings as creatures of habit- resilient to the pull of technology and the possibility of new ways of doing things. Yet, if you are willing, there is much that can be done digitally to make sure your category page doesn’t end up the same way as your catalogue, much ignored and resigned to the trash…

This is a page, particurlarly, that requires consideration before it is actually reached - primarily in the way the content is split and then represented in the site’s navigational design. With this in mind we will commit some time to looking at how you first establish your categories and how they should inform your navigation, from which we will go on to concentrate on the features of the page itself...


Navigation

When creating the structure for your main and subcategories consider the following:

  • Your most important and broadest categories should form the primary headings of your menu- those that will be visible at all times as your customer navigates your website. However, it is worth noting that while it may feel at odds with the other categories you have created, if you have a product that outsells everything else on your site then consider allocating some of this prime navigation space to it.

Screen_Shot_2016-08-04_at_10.58.08.pngLevi’s have a broad range of items but also recognize that 501 and 511 jeans are their iconic pieces and so give these prominence in their navigation.

 

  • According to Orbit Media, you should have no more than seven categories forming the root of your category navigation. This is, in part, because it allows each category more authority from an SEO perspective but also because the human short-term memory only stores seven items at a time - if a person is able to remember, broadly, what you sell, then they are more able to move around your categories quickly. In terms of subcategories, these will normally, by their nature, be greater in number so should simply be enough to get the job done without being overwhelming.

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Juniqe, like many ecommerce sites, stick to the 7 or less rule when it comes to categories.

 

  • When appropriate, list subcategories under as many applicable root categories as needed - this will allow customers multiple routes to their desired product instead of forcing them down unnecessary dead ends. For example, a pet store’s main category structure may be something along the lines of dogs, cats, small animals, big animals, pet food, accessories, gifts. Dog and cat food can then be stored both under pet food but also the dog and cat range.

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Female customers on the BooHoo site can get to new items for clothes by going to the 'New In' category or the Women’s tab.

  • The naming of your categories- this is important for two reasons. Firstly, it tells people, at a glance, the range of what you sell so that they can decide whether to delve deeper into your site or to go elsewhere. Secondly, the category names which make up your navigation will also be a key driver of traffic to your site - contribute as they do to your SEO efforts. For this reason you should focus on clear, functional and commonly used terms. It is not a place for marketing talk or funny and witty copy. The basic rule of thumb? They shouldn’t have to click on it to know what’s in there, but for a more scientific approach do your due diligence using Google Adwords to find out the most searched terms.

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Made’s
category name are clear and straight to the point.

  • Once you have created your categories and named them, also consider the way you order them - both in the primary navigation and any subcategories in dropdowns. The smart-sorting of categories would position the most common/valuable ones on top and least valuable at the bottom. This can be achieved simply by reviewing sales/ERP data. However, remember the order should be logical for people - if your products have a natural flow, take this into consideration.

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Zalando have put everyday items such as dresses, over more specific and less frequently bought pieces like trench coats and swimwear.

 

Now that you have nailed your category layout, let’s move onto the individual pages and the elements that will optimize them...

 

Look and feel:

Exactly how your page should look is going to depend on your brand and what you sell but here are some useful best practices:

  • Make it visually clear where a visitor has landed. Category pages are often SEO optimized, as well as paid traffic being driven there - this means a customer may end up on a category page without taking a journey from the homepage. It is therefore important to give strong visual cues as to where in the site they have entered. This can include inspirational banners stretching the full width of the page. These should highlight multiple items to show range and keep the page timely and relevant, for example, if it is summer and you are a clothing retailer pick some of your best selling summer pieces. Imagery can and should also be bolstered by a descriptive header that details the type of products that will be found there. This also counts towards SEO and should thus be optimized.

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Eton Shirts
 use both a large inspirational image and a supporting text to signal what page shoppers have landed on.


  • Rows are the most used layout in ecommerce, with an average of three items per line. That said, it isn’t a case of one size fits all and should be decided on a category-by-category basis. For example, you may want to have just one column, giving each product in the list full width of the screen. This is useful when you have products that by their nature people want to see a lot of information about i.e. computers, as is shown in the Dell example. It also works well if you have a small category with a number of simple and complementary products that are likely to be bought together, as it allows people to browse them together and select what they want from the category page itself.

Screen_Shot_2016-08-04_at_11.53.14.pngDell opt for a one column layout.

 

Filtering:

One of the primary issues with category pages is the number of items that can be held there. A never-ending list of products is neither appealing or useful to time-poor shoppers who don’t have time to sift through them. This is why filtering is of such key importance- but with only 16% of major ecommerce websites shown to offer a reasonably good filtering experience, here are a few tips on getting it right:

Let’s start with where to put them. Broadly speaking there are two popular options that you may want to consider.

  • Left-hand navigation was the standard for a long time - keeping with this tradition will avoid a disruptive UX that may be confusing to the shopper. And as we all know, if a shopper finds your site hard to use, they won’t use it. However, studies have found that sometimes tunnel vision and a tendency to focus on the upper center of the page means that users can sometimes not use the filtering options at all, instead confusing the sorting options (normally found in the upper center) as the primary way of trimming the product list. If you do choose to use left-hand filter navigation then reduce the chance of this happening with a notable filter design - i.e checkboxes.


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ASOS
 keep with the more traditional left hand positioning for their filters, using check boxes to make them more obvious.

 

  • A horizontal toolbar which combines both filters and the sort tool - this has been shown to combat the issues stated above and also allows for larger product photos, however, because of the limitation of a page's width vs length, this approach only works well for store types that naturally have only a few filters.

Screen_Shot_2016-08-05_at_11.10.52.pngScarosso have both filters and the sort capability at the top of the page.

In terms of the filters you should have, this will of course depend on what you are selling, but things to keep in mind:

  • If there are multiple ways of filtering your products then have multiple filters, it is about giving your customers the options they need to find what they want. If you are selling computers then they may be looking for a computer in a certain colors, with a large hard drive AND a large screen. Allow them to layer the options you give them so that they are only left with the products that fit in with their criteria. Serving someone relevant products means they are more likely to buy.

 

Screen_Shot_2016-08-05_at_11.35.46.pngCurrys give an extensive range of filtering options.

 

  • You should know your customers more than anyone else - use this inside knowledge to know what might be useful to them, that others might not think to include. For example, as a woman’s clothing retailer you may know from target market research that many women are not comfortable wearing tops without sleeves. You should then add a “long sleeve” filter option to your style filters on the category page for tops.

Screen_Shot_2016-08-05_at_11.39.29.pngZalando have added some very specific filter types that other fashion retailers do not have, such as collar type.

 

  • If your business is prone to seasonal change then add temporary and timely filters- for example, if you are a clothing company and it is summer then you know that a lot of people are shopping for their holiday - why not add a “holiday” option to the look-book style filters to save them time?

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TopShop add filters such as “Festival” and “Holiday Shop” to their dress section.

Sorting:

We have already touched on sorting in the last section, as something that is complimentary to filtering and can even be combined. However, it is worth noting that, especially if you are using a left-hand navigation, this is a must. Customers may have whittled down the items they want to see, but now the order in which they want to see them becomes paramount. While it will depend on your business, most common are factors such as price, rating and popularity.

Screen_Shot_2016-08-05_at_12.19.00.pngPuma use multiple sort options.



However, if you really want to go above and beyond, then dynamic and personalized sorting is the holy grail. This mean you automatically adjust the product order for each user separately based on their browsing & shopping history, cart content and merchandizing rules. Offering a truly personalized and relevant experience. For example, if someone shopped Nike sneakers in the past, show the new Nike models higher up in the list. If they have searched for a specific brand, then highlight that brand on every category during that visit. It is better for your customer and better for you.

 

Personalization:

  • We’ve already determined that the pure number of items on a category pages is often one of the main issues people face on this area of an ecommerce site. And as we’ve seen, filtering and sorting options can be used to combat this. But they are only of use if a customer knows what they are looking for. What if they they are still in the discovery mode of shopping? Automated product recommendations could be the answer.
  • Go for a 1:1 personalization slot if you have enough data on the individual browsing - this will bring the most relevant products for them to the forefront, making the shopping journey quicker and easier for them. Otherwise Best Seller recommendations are a great option - these will show what items are most popular in the category, automatically highlight the products most likely to convert, showing some range so that they are aware of the type of products that can be found there and also reflecting seasonal and trend based changes.

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Sarah Raven use Best Seller product recommendations on their category pages.

Infinite scroll vs. pagination vs. “Load more”:

The way to split your products across a number of pages can be a bit of a tricky subject. On the one hand infinite scroll (the ability to view a whole category on one page) encourages browsing and ultimately exposes user to more products, but without a reason to pause, it has been shown that shoppers end up scanning more and so are less focussed on individual products. This means they are less engaged with each item and when we are less engaged, we are less likely to buy. Pagination however, can make the process clunky and leave users feeling frustrated. The answer, according to Baymard Usability tests is the use of “Load more” buttons and with that, lazy-loading. Lazy loading means elements are present, but are not loaded until they are needed. This means that the products appear to be on one longer page, but the natural break “load more” and lazy loading offers means that shoppers are more engaged. It is the best of both worlds.

Screen_Shot_2016-08-05_at_12.51.49.pngMissguided have opted for the “Load more” option.


Note:
If you do still opt for pagination, give shoppers the option to select how many items they see on each page - this puts the power back in the hands of the shopper and works to somewhat naturally offset the frustration of page loading delays, as they know they have elected to view that many products. Remember to also include all page numbers too so that it is easier for them to return to a certain page.

 

Product information:

Key product information can be crucial in eliciting interest from passing browsers, yet with an area as busy as the category page, with many different products vying for attention, there is a thin line to tread. Too much information and your viewer faces being overwhelmed, too little and you may find they fail to be enticed any further. It is up to you to decide what is key information in relation to your products but there are general patterns that have been found to work. In consumer electronics, features such as review stars, bulleted key details and promo ribbons have all proven popular. In fashion, color and size options are easily represented in icon form.

If you want to have the best of both world, showing only key information but also giving shoppers the option to delve deeper without clicking through, then consider a pop-up box triggered by the mouse hovering over an option. This can include more details, a video or gif or an additional image with the product from a different angle or worn by a model.


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Currys, knowing what’s important to their target market and because of the nature of their products, have quite a large amount of key product info on their category page.

So, there we have it everything you need to consider to craft a category page that UX dreams are made of! Go forth and categorize!

Like this? Check out 'How to create the perfect ecommerce product page'