10 Ecommerce Best Practices for Your Category Pages

This is the next part in our Best Practices series for eCommerce usability. Over the past month, we have covered topics ranging from product pages to the shopping cart and checkout processes. It’s not uncommon for well-meaning web designers to hurt their eCommerce efforts by overdesigning pages or missing small details. We wanted to create a guide for designing your site so that you can show off your products in their best light. When you take away barriers to buy, your customers will have no reason to bounce.

The final part of our Best Practices series covers category pages. These are the backbone of your eCommerce site and serve as a bridge between your homepage and product pages. Check out these 10 best practices for using category pages to move customers deeper into your sales funnel.

Make Parent and Child Categories Equally Selectable

You need category pages along with subcategory pages. You can see right here on how to make a positive e-commerce module, as generally some people want a high-level view of a category before they narrow down their search. Most customers use this as a solution for when they can’t find what they’re looking for or want to browse different options.

Let’s use the example of someone shopping for dresses online. A customer likely won’t know that they want an A-line dress or a maxi dress, they just want to see what products you have and if they look cute. By creating a clickable “dress” category page, your customers can look at all of your dress options and then filter down the information based on what they’re interested in.

For example, ModCloth has a diverse spread of dresses, and many customers add dozens of items to their wishlist. Their high-level category pages encourage browsing, not unlike looking at items in a brick-and-mortar location. Without this parent category, your customers will get annoyed and bounce rather than looking in each subcategory until they find what they need.

category pages

Give Customers the Ability to Filter

Your category pages give customers a high-level location of where they want to be, and your filters can help them narrow their options until their search results are more manageable. Let’s use the dress example again. When staring at hundreds of dresses in the high-level category page, a customer can narrow their search results to a few dozen by limiting the price, size, length, and even color. With just a few clicks, she can focus on the best dresses possible for her needs.  

Once again, you can around with ModCloth to see this in action. They have more than 300 dresses on their site, but that number drops to 99 when you filter by size. It drops again down to five if you filter by color. With these filters, it doesn’t matter what the dress category is because the customer found their best options with just a few clicks.  

category filter

Add Subcategories Multiple Times As Needed

This is one of the more contested tips when it comes to category pages. Some marketers argue that showing the same subcategories under your main categories will confuse customers, but studies have found that people actually find what they’re looking for faster.

For example, if you were looking to buy boys pants, would you go to the pants category first or the children’s clothes category? It’s unfair to assume that all of your customers think like you and will follow your same train of thought. By placing boys pants under both the pants and the children’s category, you increase the chances that customers will find what they are looking for.

Remember, your customers likely aren’t studying your categories like a map. As soon as they find what they want, they are going to click.  This is particularly important for brands with dozens of categories, subcategories, and even further child categories underneath that. 

It’s up to you to decide whether this creates unnecessary clutter, especially if you have multiple subcategories that can go to multiple places. However, it may be worth implementing usability testing for this to see how your customers react.

eCommerce Categories

Make Your Categories Obvious for Users

Don’t let your brand get in the way of usability. It’s all too common for eCommerce brands to create “cute” category names that they think are witty but really confuse customers. Your category pages should correlate to how new customers view your website.

There are certain pages that every website has that internet users expect to find. Pages like “contact us” or “about.” When customers can’t find what they’re looking for, or when it takes a few extra steps to get there, they are going to get annoyed with your site.

The same concept applies to the colors of your products. Is “cloudy sunrise,” supposed to be blue or orange? And if orange, what kind of orange? Clearer labels will sell better than overly-branded content.

Make Sure Your Product Images Are Consistent

We’ve touched on the importance of having unified branding on your photos in regard to product pages, but this advice bears repeating: if you have multiple photography styles for your products, your customers will think less of your brand. Plus, you’re setting your site up to sell certain products that are displayed well while putting other products at a disadvantage.

It’s worth the investment to take your own product photos instead of relying on your vendors to provide them for you. While you can use some vendor photos in your product pages, make sure the category image has your branding. Otherwise, your website will look like an eBay search results page.

product results

Display Product Reviews on Your Landing Pages

The goal of UX is to create a funnel for customers to move through your site to the products they want. While you can’t always predict what customers want, you can highlight the top options on your site. If you want to guide customer clicks, include the number of reviews and star rating for products on your category pages. People are more likely to trust items with several reviews and will click on your highest-quality items.

Consider this data: products that have 50 or more reviews convert at 4.6% higher rate than those that do not. However, customers only read one to three reviews before making a decision.

The travel site Viator highlights reviews in all of their tours. Few people are willing to take a risk on a new tour or low-rated tour, so the top tours get booked quickly and their reviews pile up.

search results

Display the Price   

Along with displaying reviews, display the price as well. Don’t force customers to click on products that might be out of their price range. If you’re going to let customers sort, make the price obvious. By displaying the price, you are actually bringing customers closer to the items they want to buy instead of requiring them to look at every product option on your site.

Make the Customer Path Clear

This is a small step you can take to make the customer navigation process easier, especially for people who aren’t sure about what they need or where to look for it. Adding a navigation path explaining how customers reached a certain place makes it easier for people to backtrack or get their bearings.

Turn to REI for examples on both the clear customer path and multiple options for accessing subcategories. First, you can clearly see the path to reach your narrowed search results: Columbia > Men’s Clothing > Rain Jackets. However, that isn’t necessarily the path most people will take to get there. You can get the same results by searching for Rain Jackets > Men’s Jackets > Columbia. It doesn’t matter how customers find the content, all roads lead to high-quality results.

subcategories

Promote Latest Arrivals to Loyal Customers

If you differentiate your results between new and returning customers, consider adding a feature to your category pages that display the latest arrivals to returning customers. These are people who already trust your brand. They wouldn’t have returned if they didn’t like what you have. Instead of trying to push your best sellers and highest-rated items, showcase some of your new and fresh arrivals. When your loyal customers buy these items and review them, they can turn into your best sellers that new customers love as well.

At the very least, you can add a New Arrivals filter to your product listings like Dillard’s. 

Make Sure Your Pages Load Quickly

Online stores for Amazon and Walmart have trained customers to expect hundreds of results immediately. Your customers don’t want to choose between two options, they want to see dozens of products and then filter them based on their needs. If you have a slow load speed, your page might load four results and then sit half-finished for the next five seconds while the remaining items load.

Prioritize site speed for a better UX, improved SEO, and higher conversion rates. Remember, 47% of customers expect your website to load in under two seconds. Hold your feet to the fire and keep your load speeds up.

Your category pages are just one part of the customer journey through your site, but they are easy to lose in the middle of the funnel. Without your category pages, there’s no way you would see the sales you currently have.

If your category pages need some TLC, you’re not alone. We work with eCommerce brands of all sizes to improve their user experience. Start with a 25-Point User Experience Checkup so you can see where your pages need improvement and how you can update your website to drive results.

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