Sorting & Filtering - A Key to Product Findability

Aug 09, 2016

sorting filtering

Product findability is still one of the biggest challenges facing online retailers. Most out-of-the-box e-commerce platforms include a search feature, but oftentimes lack the ability to trigger relevance-based faceted navigation and filtering options.

The reality is that users like to sort search results things like price, customer ratings, newest, etc., but it can be a recipe for disaster, with irrelevant results rising to the top as the user sorts product results. Applying global filters in the navigation, regardless of the context of the search query, is also problematic and can lead the visitor to dead ends and confusing results.

We've all been there: the initial set of search results for something like a camera seem relevant, but after sorting the results by—say, lowest to highest price—we're left wondering why the search results page is full of camera cases and other accessories. The results get even more confusing after "refining" the results with global filters, even when they don't make sense for the search term. If you're searching for a TV on a site that also sells washing machines, the product attribute "capacity" is meaningless.

Solving the Sort & Filter Challenge:

There are a variety of ways to address the issues associated with site-wide sorting; let's take a look at three of them.
  1. Search Scope — An option made popular by mass-merchants like Amazon is to scope the search field itself, or in other words, display a manual selector in the form of a drop down or embedded in the search field. "Scope" can be thought of as category and the results should default to the current category and offer alternatives. For example, in a search beginning with "med...", as the searcher types each letter, the autocomplete navigation options dynamically update and display results that might include, Medicine Cabinets in Bed & Bath, Medicine Balls in Sports and Fitness, and Media Storage in Furniture
  2. Offer Search Scope and Site-wide Sorting — This approach gives users the ability to choose a category to sort within or to sort the current results by attributes, such as price, relevance, user rating, etc. This takes the sorting interface a step further than a default site-wide sort by encouraging the user to select a search scope, but retaining the option to sort across multiple categories if they choose to.
  3. "Faceted Sorting" and Site-wide Sorting — Many users conceptually think of filtering and sorting as the same thing, so in addition to displaying relevant facets in the side navigation, consider including faceted filter suggestions in addition to the category scope. In other words, suggest a list of category specific sorting options for a highly relevant subset of the search results, e.g. if a user searches on TV, offer a refine by sort that include facets that are relevant to TVs and exclude all of the accessories. A word of caution if you're considering this approach: make sure your on-site search solution technology goes beyond just looking at the number of aggregated results and can present truly relevant options.

No matter which approach you take, the key is to make it easier for shoppers to sort through large sets of products to find what they are looking for.