If you’ve ever tried looking for a product online and haven’t found what you’re looking for, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re among the majority of visitors to e-commerce sites, if we go by some studies although when you don’t find what you need, I can bet these studies are not what you use to console yourself. What you really do is, go elsewhere and try to make your life easier.
Most online retailers are not aware that the site’s user experience is the primary factor for hitting the conversion rate sweet spot. One part of that user experience involves providing a structured product catalog. User experience is a bigger problem among brick-and-mortar retailers who are attempting to take their stores online. It seems that the online product catalog reflects the structured and organised floor organization of products in a brick-and-mortar store. The online retailers, purely online ones as well as those brick-and-mortar ones transitioning to online, perhaps believe that online visitors too would feel comfortable with a structure that is similar to a brick-and-mortar style categories and brands-based organization of the products. The assumption is that a single product navigation structure is relevant for a group as diverse as the visitors to an e-commerce site. Structuring or categorizing products and brands has worked for brick-and-mortar stores simply because of the limitations of floor space and inventory. That does not apply to online stores. My opinion is that such product navigation structures impose on the visitors the online retailer’s view of the product catalog. In some cases, it even imposes the perspective of the engineering teams developing the website.
For eg. all electronics, all mobiles, brand XYZ go into separate categories and sections. These classes do not reflect how the user would sub-consciously try to consume information regarding the products available on the site. Just try searching online for washing machines and see if any site allows differentiating between front-loading and top-loading one. Try it and let me know, I am in the market for one. Am I to assume that the difference does not matter, or to assume that the difference does not matter only to that online store or am I just being too picky?
Even this style of consuming product catalog information on a site changes from purchase to purchase, product to product and even between visits. Every purchase gets structured differently in the visitor’s mind. Visitors bring their own context, their own structure that they have developed in their minds and apply that to any and every site they want to search on. That is, till he or she actually visits the site and is forced to comply with the site’s product navigation structure.
We need to stop developers, product guys and generally any humans to be arbitrators of user experience on a site, at least as far as looking for a product is concerned. We need to let users take control of site navigation and product search. There needs to be a revolt against the algorithmic site navigation structure imposed by business or engineering teams. More importantly, we need innovation in site navigation that does not depend on current paradigm of a) browsing a product catalog or b) site search. Till better solutions are found, E-commerce sites must release their visitors from restrictive site navigation structures and just have search that truly understands the user and gives him or her the freedom to reach products they want.