10 Ways to Improve Your Ecommerce Product Filters

Discoverability and findability.

As an ecommerce pro, you know how vital these two concepts are to your business’s success.

If a would-be customer can’t discover a new product on your site or find the one they’re looking for, they’ll bounce.

Product filters can make sure that doesn’t happen.

What are product filters?

Product filters are sweet magic.

Other than your basic search function, product filters are what allow your customer to find the exact item they’re looking for, as well as things they didn’t even know they wanted.

According to BigCommerce, “Product filtering (also known as faceted search) allows shoppers to refine product searches based on multiple attributes like price, color, size, and reviews.”

Think of those check-box categories that so many ecommerce sites have down the left side of their shop pages. Those are product filters.

Why do product filters matter?

Because the benefits (many) outweigh the drawbacks (none).

  1. Product filters provide a better user experience, which should be the main goal of any website.
  2. They ensure more seamless and fast browsing, meaning visitors find the product(s) they want much faster and move on, freeing up your server bandwidth.
  3. Google gives product filters the thumbs-up, as they improve a site’s speed and ease of use; and if Google likes you, there’s nothing you can’t do.
  4. They help you sell more.

David Moth of Econsultancy breaks it down:

“Only a small proportion of shoppers will arrive at an ecommerce site knowing the exact product they’re looking for, while most will prefer to browse and consider different options.

“As such, sites need to give shoppers tools to search their product range and strip out the items they’re not interested in.

“An effective site search function is obviously a key element, but product filters are also necessary if you want to deliver a decent user experience.”

While Moth’s article has some good tips on how to get product filters working for you, it’s more than seven years old, and its suggestions are pretty much industry standard now. 

So, without further ado, a modern-day article offering 10 ways to improve your ecommerce product filters.

know your audience

1. Know your audience

And speak to them accordingly.

The language you use, the names of your categories, should be easily identified and immediately known to the people browsing your site.

Don’t use niche industry jargon; nobody knows what you’re talking about and nobody likes a smartypants. Think like your customers, and use the words they would use to find what they’re looking for.

Though it might be tempting, product filters are not a branding exercise. They’re meant to facilitate your customers’ shopping experience.

Careful not to forget that.

2. Organize product filters by importance

The alphabet is a wonderful thing. But when it comes to product filters? Meh.

Do not go for alphabetical category lists. You need to build a hierarchy of filters based completely on the values of your customer: what matters is what’s important to them, not that B comes after A.

Give them what they need to make a decision and make a purchase.

Simple.

3. Display all applied product filters

Make sure your visitors can clearly see all their applied filters throughout their entire shopping experience.

Humans are a forgetful bunch, and unless we can see what we’ve clicked, confusion could set in.

It all comes down to UX; your site’s visitors shouldn’t have to scroll through your list of product filters to remind themselves of which ones they’ve activated.

Which brings us to our next point…

remove filters

4. Make it easy to remove filters

Put yourself in their shoes.

You’re looking for a cozy sweater to see you through this pandemic winter. You’ve applied a few product filters: cashmere; green; v-neck.

Sounds nice.

But the results just aren’t doing it for you. None of these v-necks look right. Better unclick that filter.

Wait, where is it? You know what? This isn’t worth it.

*door slams shut*

Making it easy for your customers to find what they’re looking for means making it easy to remove what they aren’t.

It comes down to friction, and the less there is of it, the better.

5. Zoom in with themes

If you have even a fairly small catalogue, you’ll need to give your customers the tools to zoom in.

Multiple SKUs mean multiple characteristics, which means, if you only provide broad categories, more results for your customer. And that defeats the whole purpose of product filters.

The bigger your catalogue, the more important it is that, on top of your usual wide-reaching categories, you employ high-level themes. Think seasons or events, whatever’s relevant to your audience.

Themes: just one more way to help your customer, and your bottom line.

6. Keep it short

Every industry’s different and every company has its own catalogue, so the number of product filters you use will vary based on your offerings.

However (and this is a big “however”), you need to do your best to keep it as short as possible.

As with web design in general, clutter is a bad thing. Simplify your visitor’s experience by giving them only what they need to achieve their aim.

Think to yourself, “What does my customer absolutely need?” and work backwards from there.

7. Allow multiple selections

People like choices. People like options.

Let your precious customers refine their searches as much as possible by letting them apply multiple product filters.

This one is a bit of a throwback to that Econsultancy blog article from 2013, but it needs repeating in 2020. Too many ecommerce sites out there are still restricting shoppers by only letting them click on one filter.

Don’t be like them.

inventory

8. Take inventory into account

There comes a time in every ecommerce pro’s life when one of their items—maybe it’s their best-seller, maybe it’s an old SKU they plain forgot about—sells out. 

When this happens, you need to take a moment to look at your product filters. If there’s any way a customer could somehow apply them and get zero results… yikes. That’s like Halloween come early.

If you can’t currently serve your customers with a specific category, don’t show it. Don’t even whisper it.

Avoid the dreaded zero search results scenario at all costs.

9. Product filters need to work on mobile

It’s predicted that by 2021 (which isn’t too far off, people), mobile will account for 73% of the ecommerce market.

Whoa.

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: you’ve got to have a mobile-first mentality. And that goes for product filters too. Make sure the interface you’re using performs perfectly on smartphones.

You may find that you need to have separate strategies for mobile and desktop. A one-size-fits-all approach might be tempting from a resources perspective, but if your mobile experience is lacking, you’re leaving money on the table. 

Lots of money.

a/b testing

10. Always be testing

And optimizing, of course.

Apologies, but this is no longer optional. 

Track which product filters your visitors are applying and which ones are leading to purchases.

If categories simply aren’t getting clicked, consider why. Is it because nobody wants a blender sprinkled with “gold dust” or because your blender-loving audience doesn’t know exactly what “gold dust” is?

Bottom line: always be testing.

BigCommerce spells it out nicely: “Easing shopper navigation by offering product filtering can take the frustration out of browsing by allowing shoppers to search according to their wants and necessities.”

After all, removing friction should be one of your top priorities in everything you do.

All you have to do now is constantly make sure your product filters are relevant and work.

You can do it.

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