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How to Categorize Products for your E-Commerce Site

Jan 26, 2017

How awesome is it to look for a product online, quickly find exactly what you're looking for, and be able to easily make a purchase right away? Feels like your lucky day, doesn't it?

How to Categorize Products for Your E-Commerce SiteConversely, how frustrating is it to have to click all over creation before you think you've found the right product, only to discover that you've got to click around a hundred more times -- or worse, it's not even there at all and you just wasted your time.

E-commerce sites require a special amount of detail and an exceptional amount of user-friendliness in order to be successful. A big part of the UX (user experience) of e-commerce sites lies in properly categorizing your products. If you can master the science of product categories, you're well on your way to a great UX... and more sales! You can start by following three easy steps.

How to Categorize Products for Your E-Commerce Site

1. Avoid over-categorization.

Too many categories, cryptically worded categories, categories with hardly any products in them -- all these are going to be confusing and frustrating for shoppers, and could definitely deter them from buying from you.

There's a tendency among e-commerce companies, rather than taking the time to accurately categorize, subcategorize, and filter products, to instead throw things on the site as a category. But not everything needs to be a category of its own. Remember this: filters are your friend.

Categories vs. Filters

Categories are your main differentiators of products. For example, let's say you sell women's clothing online. Your categories might be as follows:

  • Tops & Blouses
  • Sweaters
  • Pants
  • Dresses
  • Jackets
  • Accessories

Maybe they'd be organized by clothing style:

  • Business
  • Casual/Everyday
  • Athletic
  • Formal

Or, perhaps they'd be broken up by customer type:

  • Juniors
  • Petites
  • Misses
  • Plus Size

It's important to determine your categories based on your target audience. (See #2 below.)

Filters allow you to narrow down the items in a particular category based on certain attributes. Let's say in your women's clothing e-commerce store you sell a number of tops, such as button-ups, graphic tees, henleys, and tank tops. Those should not be categories; rather, they should be filters under the broader category of Tops & Blouses.

A user can only select one product category at a time, so if they're looking for blouses and nice tees, you don't want to force them to click around to get to both. Filters are not mutually exclusive. Users can select a number of filters and combine them to view more of the products they're looking for.

If you have a small number of products under a certain category (compared to your others), that should alert you that you might not need that category at all.

The "Shared Product Attribute Test" helps you determine what should be categories and what should be filters.

Shared Product Attribute Test: If the product attributes are the same across the different product types in question, then the set of product types should (typically) be implemented as filters.

(source: Baymard Institute)

2. Know your target customer.

E-commerce sites are all about UX. How well (or poorly) you categorize your products will determine how long a user stays on your site, and whether or not they end up sealing the deal with a purchase. Knowing your target customer will give you guidance on how to structure your categories because you'll know precisely what they're looking for and the terms THEY use to describe it.

Speaking of which, be sure to categorize products based on the terms your customers use. This may not be the correct or technical term used in your industry, but who cares? If it's not the term your target market uses, you'll lose customers.

And finally, keep in mind, the more pages your user has to visit, the less likely they are to buy. One popular recommendation is to follow the Rule of 3: Don't make users click more than three times to get to the products they want.

3. Use analytics to track your success.

The beautiful thing about websites, e-commerce, AdWords campaigns, etc. is that nothing is set in stone. You can always tweak, alter, or change course altogether. The best way to know if your current way of doing things is working is to use analytics. You'll see (among other things) how many visitors you're getting, what people are clicking on, how long they're staying on each page, and whether or not they're buying from you. You'll learn a ton to help you properly categorize your products and fulfill #2 above, Know your target customer.

Christopher Mazurk

Written by Christopher Mazurk

Chris is your go-to point of contact once you sign on with us. His background in website development, project management and network administration is delightfully comprehensive, so you can rest assured that you are in good hands. Outside of work, Chris's hands are typically clapping at an Angels game or serenading his wife via guitar.

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