How the Experts Optimize Category Navigation in Ecommerce


This guide is designed to help online retailers to optimize their category navigation, making it easier for shoppers to find what they want.

We’ve consolidated dozens of tips from our web developers, customer success experts, and customers into this guide.

Section 1: Top level navigation

Your top level navigation is extremely important. Most (if not all) of your visitors will interact with your top-level navigation options during their visit.

Tip 1: Simplify

image depicting simplified navigation on an ecommerce store

Are there redundant items that could be removed? Is there a smarter way you could organize your categories to make it easier to use?

Tip 2: Merchandise

Since top-level categories are usually very broad, they’re likely to contain large numbers of products. Merchandising these broad category pages can improve the shopping experience. Placing on-sale, popular, or highly rated products at the top of these categories could improve the experience. There are many other merchandising opportunities to explore.

Section 2: Filters

Filters save shoppers from a lot of scanning and scrolling. Some brands and retailers still don’t support this shopping paradigm, but relegate all category navigation to broad categories. Providing filtered navigation helps your visitors by:

  • Allowing them to navigate based on what’s important to them.
  • Enabling them to visualize their navigation path.
  • Providing them with an easy way to “back out” of a selection without affecting other refinements they’ve already made.

Simply providing filtered navigation options increases conversion rates by an average of 20%.

Tip 1: Allow shoppers to search for filters

image depicting searchable filters in ecommerce

Stores with hundreds or thousands of products may have dozens of relevant filters for a given category or search page. Allowing shoppers to search for the filter they want can help them find it much faster.

Tip 2: Add an expand/collapse option for filter groups

image depicting expandable filter groups in ecommerce

Stores with larger product catalogs may have several filter groups. When all of these groups are expanded by default, most users will not see many of the groups. Provide the option for groups to be expanded and collapsed for easier navigation.

Tip 3: Expand only the top 3-4 filter groups by default

While collapsing all filter groups will prevent users from seeing any filters, expanding all of them will make navigation much more difficult. Expanding only a handful of filter groups at the top is usually a good compromise.

Tip 4: Place the most popular filter group at the top

image depicting most popular filter group at the top on ecommerce store

While the most popular filter group will change depending on the category, placing the most popular filter group at the top will help shoppers find the most relevant filters. For example: Apparel retailers should usually place the “size” filter group at or near the top, while the filter group for “brand” should probably be near the bottom.

Tip 5: Add a scrollbar or a “show more” button to filter groups

image depicting a scrollbar inside of a filter group on an ecommerce store

Provide a scrollbar or “show more” button for filter groups that contain more than a few filters so users can easily access all of them. This prevents a particular filter group from being so tall that it makes it difficult to find and use other groups.

Tip 6: Use a grid or palette display to save space

grid or palette display in filter group on an ecommerce store

A grid display saves space by utilizing the horizontal pixels that are typically left empty. For example, this can be used for the size or color filter groups which are standard on fashion and apparel stores.

Tip 7: Use a price slider (except on mobile)

example of a price slider on an ecommerce store

Sliders are much more optimal than the standard list view for selecting price, allowing users to set a customized price range much more quickly. However, on mobile they are more difficult to use, so keep that in mind.

Section 3: Sort options

Tip 1: Provide key sort options on category and search pages

example of sort options on an ecommerce store

This may seem like an elementary suggestion to some of you, but we’re surprised by how often the following sorting options aren’t available:

  • Price: low to high
  • Price: high to low
  • Most popular
  • Highest rated
  • New arrivals

Tip 2: Order your sort options based on their popularity

After a few weeks or months of use, you should have accurate data about which sort options are the most popular. Order your sort options from most popular, to least popular. This will likely differ slightly between categories. If possible, customize your arrangement of sort options per category.

Tip 3: Customize the default sort order based on shopper needs

If most of your shoppers are immediately sorting products by “best rated”, it might make sense to automatically sort products that way. Keep in mind that the most popular sort option is likely to differ per category. If possible, use the most popular sort option for each category as the default.

Section 4: Use of Images

Images can be used in some interesting ways to improve the end user experience.

Tip 1: Use images in category menus

Iconographic or photographic images can help your users navigate your categories more quickly and easily. They can also look really nice if done right, and are used more frequently than those without images.

Tip 2: Use images in guided selling

Guiding your users through a set of choices is popular in some industries, and the use of icons or images in these cases is invaluable. For example, Borsheims uses icons to great effect in their Ring Builder. (Pictured below)

Screenshot of Borsheims ring builder guided selling

There are many additional things you can do to improve navigation for your users. Take a look at our merchandising guide to learn more.

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