Filtering your product search results

12Nov07

Many retailers sell via multiple channels, such as their catalog, website, and local stores. It’s also no surprise that people tend to use the retailer’s website to research in-store purchases, and vice versa. But despite the anecdotal and research data supporting this behavior, some serious usability problems make it very hard to shop across channels using popular retail websites. In this article, I want to look at one of these problems: the difficulty in filtering your search results to show only the in-store products.

Here’s a common scenario: I go to a major website like Target to find a product. I want to buy it at the local store that day, rather than waiting for shipping. As I go through the search results for that product, I see that some of the items are marked as being available in their stores. But there’s no way to show only the in-store results, even by sorting them to appear first in the list. Figuring out what’s actually available to me takes about five times as long. A simple “Show only products available in our retail stores” would solve this problem in an instant, and probably result in a much higher conversion rate among people who want to buy today.

Ironically, Amazon has a similar problem, though it’s not related to physical stores (since they don’t have any). Instead, the issue there is that they offer products from dozens if not hundreds of different sellers. Since I have had many problems with some of the sellers, and only products from Amazon itself qualify for free shipping, I always prefer to see only those products that are sold by Amazon. Granted, I can specify this filtering option after I get my search results. But there is no way to do so before submitting a product search, or to set this preference on an account-wide basis. So every time I use the Amazon site, I end up getting a bunch of results that I’ll probably never take action upon.

In both of these scenarios, the retailer could greatly improve usability and probably increase their conversion rate by giving customers more control over which results are shown. And if they’re worried about lost sales from customers not seeing all their available inventory, they could simply show a prominent message on the filtered results screen. For instance: “We are only showing the products available in our local stores. 250 more items are available from our website. Click here to view the full list.” This makes it easier for customers to find exactly what they want, while providing some alternatives if the initial filters prove to be too restrictive.



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