Increase Online Sales by Changing Your Category Sort Order
With the holiday shopping season in full swing, many people are taking to the web in search of the perfect SLR camera, GPS navigator, or pair of shearling boots. Driven by large product catalogs filled with feature-rich SKUs some online retailers have tackled the presentation of their products head on. And rightly so. Whether most ecommerce sites are aware of it or not, the design and layout of category browse pages and search results pages plays an important role in the buyer decision making process.
When shopping online, consumers evaluate products based on what they see – usually making quick judgments in a matter of seconds. In their quest to find the perfect product, their buying decisions may be influenced by the information presented on the web page. Designers, developers, and online merchandisers can sway the buying process in certain directions by directly manipulating the sort order of products on these overview pages.
Interface Design Influences Buying Decisions
Web interface design can play a critical role in the consumer decision making process for online shoppers. As consumers evaluate products and navigate through categories of items, they often quickly narrow their preference list based on the product information presented on the initial search results or category pages. Just the right amount of appropriately placed product information can turn a browser into a buyer.
Many marketers and merchandisers are aware of the importance of creating a detailed product page, making sure to include relevant information like technical specifications, size, material, color, and compatibility that will influence consumers’ decisions. However, they may be less aware of how sort order and merchandising characteristics on category and search results pages can play a role in sales.
Most ecommerce sites with more than a handful of products have category pages and/or search results pages where visitors browse through multiple products while narrowing down their search. These lists of products are usually defined by a common search term or a shared product category and are usually organized in a default manner – sometimes just as an alphabetical listing of products, as a list based on when the product was added to the database, or by the prevalence of the searched term within the product description. A lot of platforms have a default rule for product display order, but most also enable you to change the default in your backend to something like sort by newness, sort by price, sort alphabetically, etc. Most platforms also give advanced merchandisers the ability to manually arrange products into any order within a category.
Put Your Important Products First
It may seem obvious, but consumers aren’t likely to buy things they never saw. They’re prone to remember the things they came across first. The position of a product within a list of other items on a category page can influence the consumer’s shopping behavior. Let’s say your electronics store has a category page covering 20 external hard drives, but you’re most keen to sell three specific hard drives. Maybe the margin on these products is better or they’ve gotten good reviews.
From cognitive psychology, we know that humans in general have a limited attention span when it comes to long lists of information, and multitasking shopaholics are no exception. The larger your product category, the greater the level of fatigue your shoppers might experience when browsing through the products. Consumers also tend to scan product category pages sequentially and may not continue down through a long list of items. Use your platform’s merchandising capabilities to bump featured products to the top of category pages or search results. If your categories are large, consider refining them into smaller sub-categories based on certain attributes so that products don’t get lost in the long list.
Sort By Quality of the Product
In one study of the effects of sort order on consumer choice, a group of researchers found that in a test involving the ordering of various feature-rich digital cameras on an electronics site, sorting by product quality influenced buyers’ decisions. When category pages were sorted in descending order by quality (digital cameras with the most features and best attributes on top), the quality of the product became more important to the shopper in the decision making process. The importance of price did not increase. However, when products were sorted in ascending order by quality, quality became less important and price grew in importance during the decision making process.
By highlighting the attractive attributes like features and higher quality at the top of the page, the retailer made these characteristics easier to compare between products. When products are presented in an order based on some characteristic of quality, they may be more likely judged based on that quality than if they were presented randomly.
Products displayed on category browse or search results pages can be sorted in a variety of ways. Online retailers have the advantage of manipulating the sort order of various groupings of products to influence consumer decision making. Based on the theory of loss aversion, consumers may place more importance on product configuration if the products are sorted in a descending order rather than an ascending order. With loss aversion, consumers would prefer avoiding loss (in this case, the loss of features and functionality) to acquiring gains. By showing the highest quality products first, each additional product represents a loss in features.
Merchants selling high-end products, take note: Merchandising your categories and search results pages so that the highest quality or most feature-rich products are displayed first may be beneficial. Sorting items in descending order by quality could make consumers more quality sensitive and take away the focus on price. However, offering products randomly based on features may influence shoppers to put more weight on price. If you want to offer higher price and higher quality items, experiment with placing products in descending order by quality.
Learn more by checking out “Order Effects on Consumer Product Choices in Online Retailing,” from researchers at the National University of Singapore.