Ecommerce Navigation – A Practical Advice

Ecommerce is growing strong from pillar to pillar owing to its flexibility and dynamism as a market. This article talks about how a good navigation system can help e-businesses to leverage their full potential.

‘Navigation is power of a limited sort – it enables us to manage the immensity of the media torrent.’ Prof. Todd Gitlin

As rightly stated by Professor Gitlin, navigation has the power to manage chaos. It is not a structured discipline with some tried and tested rules. It is a dynamic, versatile and fluid means to drive and guide online traffic. The art of using navigation as a tool can be acquired by continuous practice and monitoring its effect on the user.

Why Do You Need Navigational Design?

A web design with a functional navigation system in place becomes quite easy to ‘browse’ (and that’s what you want). As a consequence of this, users are able to find their way through your site with ease and they are more likely to achieve their objectives. When designing your ecommerce navigation, keep the following points in mind:

  • Context: make it relevant and up-to-date
  • Inter-linked: a well linked navigation architecture is what users need
  • Tone of Voice: colors, fonts, typography all must create a unified effect on the site
  • Understandability: easy-to-interpret direct navigation is what will keep the users interested

Ecommerce navigation design is a broad term in itself. Assume you are writing a story using technical jargon. Even if you write a good story readers must be able to read it conveniently and understand its full value. Similarly when you design, give the users what they are searching for in the first attempt. Do not throw questions or hard-to-decipher site elements on them. Simplicity and adherence to navigational standards is key. If you find yourself adding instructions on how to operate your ecommerce navigation, then you should probably scrap your navigation mechanism and start it from scratch.

Wisely Placed Content = Easy Ecommerce Navigation

Before we take a leap into ecommerce navigation, let us think about our site’s content. How do you group content as per relevancy? An Ecommerce website is obviously very rich in content. To complicate matters, this content lies at varying degree of importance. Thus, contact details, new product information, purchase history, FAQs, payment modes and all the other content of your ecommerce website must be placed logically so as to make sense for the user. For this you need to have your site’s Information Architecture (IA) in place.

Do not fret there are multiple ways to sort content as per relevance, they are :

  • Alphabetically
  • Most viewed or read content
  • As Current content or old content

Aspects of Good ECommerce Navigation

Now that you have sorted the content dilemma, let’s come back to navigation. A functional navigation system is composed of different elements. All these elements are inter-dependent and work as a whole to get the process in action.

Let’s take a look at 5 vital aspects for ecommerce navigation:

1. Search

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of users who will look inside your product pages – the ‘window shoppers’ who casually browse through your products by clicking on the categories and those who will search for a particular product. Good classification and product categorization are essential for the former. However, those looking for a specific product are more likely to use your website’s search mechanism. I would recommend to read this article to ensure that your search interface is usable.

2. Minimise the Number of Clicks

If users do not find the product that they are looking for, they will leave … even if you have it. Therefore, it is very important that users locate products by employing the least number of clicks possible. At the same time, if they have not found a product that they are looking for, it is more likely that they get a hint that the website is likely to have it if the site’s hierarchy is a flat one. One of the easiest methods to minimize the number of clicks is to carefully choose the grouping of your product categories. For example, if you have a category that contains 100 products and then all the other categories contain 10, then it is quite clear that that category needs to be broken down. Pagination can also come in handy when a category contains several products. For example suppose you are showing 10 products per page. This means that for a user to see the 30th product, then he/she needs to perform an extra 2 clicks. While this is not a big issue, it can become very frustrating when you have 100 products in a category. Therefore, it would be advisable to provide a dropdown control to allow users to select how many products to view at one go (or to see all products in a category). With internet speeds that are always on the increase, users are more likely to prefer waiting a few seconds for a page to load several products rather than having to click several times.

3. Labels

Labeling helps ecommerce website owners to present otherwise chaotic information in an organized fashion. Labels such as ‘Home’, ‘Payment History’, ‘Newly Arrived Products’, ‘Contact Us’ and so on are the backbone of a good Ecommerce web design. Think of it this way, if you label all the jars properly in your kitchen then even it becomes easy for you to sort things. This even allows a new person to locate the jars with ease and quickly. Thus, labeling is the first step for good ecommerce navigation.

4. Avoid Redundancy

Your users know what they want and that is the reason they are browsing your site. There is absolutely no need to include additional or unwanted specifications to labels, headings or titles. In other words, once you have labeled your content do not over-do it. For instance, there is no need to mention ‘Our Products’ when mentioning just ‘Products’ will do inform the user what the tab is about. So, cut down the extra words to make your content compact and impacting.

5. Images, Videos and Symbols

Display high-resolution, (ideally) 3D images and quality videos of your products and services on your site. Icons can be used too as they are great time savers. Users usually have a short attention span and hence it is good to use eye-catching audio and visuals. How long do you stick on a site which has loads of content but no explanatory visuals or videos? Not too long, right. Users have an attention span of just 10 seconds when they open a site. Use this initial time to deeply influence the user to stay on your site by having good content that contains useful and captivating images, videos and symbols.

Navigation Structure

There are many steps to build a successful and reliable ecommerce navigation system for your website. Let’s take a look at them:

  • First Rate Navigation: For content that users are most likely to hunt for
  • Second Rate Navigation: For less trending content or any sort of information
  • Horizontal Navigation
  • Vertical Navigation
  • Drop Down Navigation

If you feel too overwhelmed by these steps, answer the following questions:

  • What kind of users are likely to visit your site?
  • What is their technical proficiency?
  • What type of content will each user group be interested in?
  • Why are these users visiting your site?
  • What do they want to accomplish on your site?

Wear your thinking hats and think what your ‘User’ may want. After all good navigation enables a user to browse your site with utter ease and joy and will enable him/her to achieve their objective. This is the essence of good usability. Never puzzle your user instead delight them at every step, every page and with every element of your site.

To Summarize

According to Forrester Research, US Ecommerce annual sales will reach USD 370 billion by 2017. There is a gradual overlap of Ecommerce over m-commerce. M&M Global states ‘Most shoppers now carry a virtual shop in their pocket, in the form of a tablet or mobile device.’ The figures are indeed impressive and this indeed will create new opportunities for ecommerce designers and website owners.

So what should you do? Simple.

  • First and foremost – put yourself in the shoes of your users and build ‘for’ them
  • Focus to build highly optimized easy-to-navigate ecommerce websites
  • Via your website enable an interactive and two-way communication with your users