If the pandemic has proven anything to businesses, it’s that an online presence is a must-have. Online sales were up 34% during 2020 and even now in the first quarter of 2021, they’re said to be up 39%. When it comes to e-commerce, there is a lot to think about, of course: the website build, how to market it, what do you do if your website goes offline, and how to manage customers on a digital platform.

For this article in particular, we want to look at just one area of interest: the organization of your products online.

This may be something you haven’t thought about but if you have a large range of products, you need to consider how to make the online shopping experience for your customers as seamless and simple as possible. After all, 94% of consumers have already stated that an easily navigated website is a must, and you really don’t want to lose a valuable customer because they got lost or confused whilst searching for their desired product. Rather, you should be aiming to create an intuitive path through your store, with precise categorization and a well-labelled menu.

Here we give you the best six tips for maximizing the navigation of your e-commerce store.

1. Research how your customers choose to shop.

Starting with an understanding of how a physical store is laid out can be a good beginning to organizing your online store. You might envision a supermarket, where fruits are displayed together, next door to the vegetables and other similar products, or a clothing store where all of the shoes go together and the jeans have their own section, too.

However, be careful with these assumptions. Customers’ behaviors online can be very different to those offline, where there is greater ability to catch someone’s eye with bright colors and interesting shelves. 

A better, safer plan of action is to research your specific users. You can refer to your site analytics for clues to answer this question, but you might also want to do some user testing. You might start with the assumption that people buy furniture by rooms, rather than styles or specific pieces, only to find that the user tests prove otherwise. Similarly, you may test coffee bean organization based on the flavor of the bean, before finding evidence your users prefer to search by the origin of the bean instead.

Whatever you end up choosing, you will need to keep an eye on your site’s performance and any dead ends which lead to you losing customers.

2. Decide on the first, second, third level of categories.

Your first level categories on your e-commerce website are going to be the most important. These should be the most logical overall grouping of your products on a basic level, and these will be the top-level links that you display on your home page or carousel. An example would be clothing where you are likely to organize via gender and age, so having the top-level category as “women”, “men”, “children”. Alternatively, you might find using “casual wear”, “sportswear”, “formal wear”, “underwear”, and “accessories” works better. The category name at this level must be short and self-evident. 

Second level categories, or subcategories, are akin to the shelves in an aisle of a supermarket. For example, you might have organized all the kitchen furniture in the e-commerce top-level category, and now in the subcategory, you have “chairs”, “tables”, “cupboards”, etc. 

The third level will get more specific as you divide product types by their features. For instance, you may have a category of “lounge” and a subcategory of “couch”, then you need “2-seater”, “3-seater”, and so on.

While you might want to add more levels than this, remember that the more clicks between the customer and the buy button, the more chance to drop off your site. Ideally, you would want 2-3 category levels and certainly no more than five.

3. Allocate products in the appropriate category.

It is time to go through your inventory and allocate products to the appropriate category. A product should only belong to one category in your inventory system, so you can be consistent in your approach to purchasing, stock counting, and more. However, your e-commerce website can be different to your back office, and you can add a product to as many categories as needed. Be mindful of the shopping experience when setting up these categories.

4. Identify the generic attributes and values of your products.

Each of your products will have specific attributes and values. The attributes or dimensions of products can be helpful as filters that narrow down the list of options. For instance, an attribute might be brand, size, color, etc. An attribute would be something they would look for once they have found the category of product they are looking for. For instance, if looking for women’s jeans, this is the category. Once at the women’s jeans, the customer would then filter down through the brand and size.

Then, each attribute will need a list of values. For instance, size would need 8, 10. 12. 14, and the color list would include blue, red, green, etc. 

Your generic attributes and values are those that can be used across several categories.

5. Identify the specific attributes and values of your products.

Once you have your generic attributes useful for further filtering options, you need to decide the specific attributes and values that will only work for particular items. For example, the dimensions of a couch would be a specific attribute. While these cannot be used as part of your navigation, these specific attributes should be listed clearly at the beginning of the listing. Ensure you standardize the way you format these so it becomes intuitive to the user to look for important details.

Remember to think carefully about the attributes and values your customer would need to decide on buying. You do not want the customer searching for vital information or relying on the possibility they will send you a question. The point of your categorization is to make the route from entry to shopping basket as smooth as possible.

6. Continue to fine-tune your categories.

No matter how much work you put into your original design, you will find that customers respond in ways you did not anticipate, so you need to keep your eye on your website’s analytics – looking at the routes different segments of buyers take through your store. For example, a pair of shoes you may consider to be simply “lace up boots” might be better labelled “hiker boots” or “biker boots” depending on how your users search and use your website. The boots, of course, are lace up boots, but taking the time to learn how your customers work and fine tune these categories with that evidence will pay off in the long run.

Continuing to learn about the performance of your site is your best way of increasing conversion rates. Remember that while products should only be in one category at the backend, you can put them in more than one on your site. So, if you need to clear your inventory, you can set up a “Sales” grouping. Being imaginative in the way you bring products to your customers’ attention is part art and part science and definitely comes with practice.

Remember: your e-commerce store will be a process. Your customers will inform changes and you, too, will make better decisions as you go along. These tips should help you to take the best step forward and iron out the worst of the teething problems you may experience. 

Laura McLoughlin is a Digital PR based in Armagh, Northern Ireland. She has previous experience as a website editor and journalist, and currently works with Chorus Commerce.

E-commerce stock photo by vectorfusionart/Shutterstock