The Role of User Navigation in eCommerce

How to Shorten the Click-Path Between Your User and Their Product

When it comes to online sales, is your eCommerce website a helpful tool or a blocker? One of the major determinants is your user navigation, the click path your user has to follow to get from your homepage, or landing page, to their end goal: your product. The shorter and more clear the click path is, the better your user navigation.

In an earlier post, we talked about the role of content marketing in eCommerce (and why it works best managed from two separate, integrated platforms) and how your course of action can be subjective based on your brand, your product, and your sales funnel.

In this post we’ll talk about critical points of user navigation that determine what your eCommerce website’s click path should look like.

How Complex is Your Catalog?

When you have a large product catalog, it is difficult to get customers to the product they want. You have to know what they’re interested in. When there are thousands of products on your site, how do you shorten that click path? In other instances your working with clients who are looking for so generic an item that maneuvering through your catalog is simple.

Take Glazer’s Camera, for example. Its catalog includes thousands of SKU’s for a wide range of camera equipment. In this instance, I’m looking for an instant camera for less than $200.

User Navigation in eCommerce

Glazer’s homepage features an overhead menu with quite a few menu items. As a new visitor to the website, I’m going to assume cameras can be found under “Photography.” Instant cameras are listed right in the drop-down menu.

User Navigation in eCommerce

I’m now on the product category page, and on the page itself is category filtering that allows me to specify my price range.

User Navigation in eCommerce

Within the span of four clicks and two pages, I’ve found my camera. At no point in time did I get lost in the website, or have a hard time maneuvering the organization of the website to find what I wanted.

Although Glazer’s is a large retailer, it’s not as large and complex as some B2B catalogs can be. Here’s a look at a B2B retailer, IDEX. IDEX is a fluidics equipment wholesaler and its eCommerce website features a catalog with thousands of SKU’s.

User Navigation in eCommerce

Their homepage menu is even more simple than Glazer’s, their entire catalog listed under “Products” and then broken down into two more drop-down menus.

User Navigation in eCommerce

Each page after has navigational tabs on the page that cater to customers who are familiar with IDEX’s website and those who are exploring IDEX’s products for the first time. First-time users can go deeper through the layers of IDEX’s categories, while more experienced users can use the “Products” tab for a more direct search.

IDEX’s unique user navigation allows them to anticipate the navigation of two different users while presenting both with the shortest, clearest click path.

Entering a new store online can feel just as overwhelming as doing so in real life–your user is totally unfamiliar with the layout of your store, and your navigation is the only guide they have to finding your product.

With that in mind, creating categories in your navigation can be risky, because you’re guessing - hopefully an informed guess - about how your client is thinking about your product. As you consider your catalog and how it’s displayed in your website’s navigation, you should always consider the new visitor’s point of view: how do they find what they’re looking for?

Note: You’ll notice that in both catalogues, “Search” is part of their primary navigation. This feature is critical when you have thousands of products.

Universal Rule of User Navigation

How can you optimize?

It is much easier to change the layout of your website, than rebuild a brick-and-mortar storefront. The website you’ve built isn’t set in stone, and part of successful eCommerce marketing comes from testing, and adapting to good analytics reporting. Looking at pages with high exit rates can inform you where your user navigation is failing.

While it’s easy to update your online store’s menu items and navigation, you should also consider the expectations of returning customers. The mark of a good UX firm is first considering the old experience before making updates.

Whether you’re a large B2B website, or a direct B2C website, at the point where your user encounters frustration when attempting to carry out their purpose on your website, you’re creating unnecessary problems for yourself.

Consider your website, always, from the user’s perspective. Craft your user navigation to their goals, and orient your content marketing and eCommerce strategy around that, buoying them up to a point where they feel confident about choosing your service.