An E-Commerce Study: Guidelines For Better Navigation And Categories

The Baymard Institute conducted a usability research study on the product-finding experience of 19 major retailer’s websites including Amazon, Best Buy, Blue Nile, Chemist Direct,, eBags, GILT, GoOutdoors, H&M, IKEA, Macy’s, Newegg, Pixmania, Pottery Barn, REI, Tesco, Toys’R’Us, The Entertainer, and Zappos.  By using each website’s home page and category navigation, the study explored how users navigate, find and select products on e-commerce websites, which exposed over 900 usability-related problems.

Christian Holst, the co-founder of Baymard Institute, wrote an article in Smashing Magazine explaining 7 of the 79 guidelines outlined in the report “Homepage & Category Usablity.”  When designing your retail website, consider these guidelines:

1. Don’t Make Parent Categories Shallow. (Also, Have Parent Categories.)

Issue observed: When the hierarchy of categories is just labels and headers, it breaks the expectations of users and forces them into narrower sections than they desire, preventing explorative product browsing.

2. Put The Same Subcategory Within Multiple Main Categories When Necessary.

Issue observed: When a subcategory could logically appear in multiple parent categories but appears only in one, users are often led astray.

3. Consider Having A “What’s New” Category Or Filter.

Issue observed: Some users want to see what’s new in your store — say, to be inspired or when buying for a friend — without having to plow through previously browsed products.

4. Suggest Both Alternative And Supplementary Products On Product Pages.

Issue observed: Alternatives, substitutes, add-ons and accessories to the product that the user is currently viewing are unreasonably difficult to find without good upselling and cross-selling on the product page.

5. List “Recently Viewed Items.”

Issue observed: Refinding a previously visited product becomes needlessly complex when the user has to rely on the browser’s native “Back” button or has to renavigate the categories or reuse search.

6. Create Dedicated Pages That List Compatible Products.

Issue observed: Users have a difficult time finding compatible products and verifying their compatibility when the website doesn’t explicitly state their compatibility or link to the corresponding products.

7. Always Link Contextual Images Directly To The Products Shown.

Issue observed: Users quickly grow frustrated when they spot a product in a contextual image but can’t navigate to it.

To learn more details about these issues, read the full article.

Follow us on Twitter @OxfordTech or on Facebook to read more about usability research.