Effective navigation can make your ecommerce website intuitive, and easy to use. Some of the most crucial principles in planning your ecommerce navigation are:
Useful Navigation Is Better Than Fancy Navigation
There are many fancy technologies that help you create scrollers, sliders, exploding menus, and other fancy navigation. While your designers might pat themselves on their backs for creating a really "cool" design element, customers will be pulling their hair out while trying to select the right choices. I am all for "cool" design, but not at the cost of usability. Make sure that ease of use is the first principle you follow while designing your ecommerce navigation.
Set the Navigation in Stone
Even if your navigation is highly intuitive, there will be a learning curve for new users as they try to locate various options and features. You must ensure that their learning does not go to waste. What that means is:
- The navigation must be at a fixed location on all pages of your website. The only exception would be when the customer initiates checkout. During checkout, you might want to reduce navigation to keep the customer on track, and prevent shopping cart abandonment
- Keep the same order: If some of your sidebars are sorted alphabetically, while others are sorted by popularity, the customer can get confused. Maintain a standard and stick to it as the default choice. If the customer deliberately chooses to sort the options differently, then that is her choice.
Let me illustrate this with an example. Consider the case of customers who are interested in purchasing a toy for an 8-year old. Some would be keen to first narrow down the toys by age. For them appropriate choices would look like:
- New Borns
- 1 - 2 year old
- 3 - 4 year old
- 5 - 7 year old
- 8 - 10 year old
Use Words That Customers Use
I am no expert in toy retail, but I assume that most parents would refer to toys such as science kits as "science toys" and not "early development tools." The choice of language in ecommerce navigation should mirror the language that the customer uses and understands.
Use an Effective Internal Search Engine
If navigation is about getting from one point to another on your ecommerce website, then the internal search engine is definitely a form of navigation. All you need to do to make an effective internal search engine, is to program it to be able to read the mind of the customer, and present the appropriate result. Ok, ok, I am kidding. But you get the idea.
Continuously evolving the quality of internal search will pay dividends. Quite likely you will end up using one of the many search providers. That is ok. But keep track of your search analytics to locate problem areas. Then work with your search provider to improve the search experience.
Include a Bread Crumb Trail That Tells Customers "You Are Here"
When you are in a large location -- a mall, an amusement park, or the like -- you have maps posted strategically to help you navigate. One of the most important features of these maps is that they tend to have a place marked as, "You Are Here." I do not want to borrow from Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," but you will know where you want to get to, only when you know where you are.
In ecommerce websites, the equivalent of a "You Are Here' marker is something called a bread crumb trail. This looks something like:
Home > Toys > Electronics > Remote Controlled > Helicopters
Regardless of how the customer landed up on a specific webpage, the bread crumb trail informs the customers of their present location, and offers them with the means to jump to a higher-level category.