How to use product filters effectively in eCommerce

Aran Reeks
By Aran Reeks
11 Nov 2013

eCommerce websites with high conversion rates will always have customer convenience at their core. They will always be designed around the principle of making it as easy and pleasurable as possible for shoppers to find what they want. 

Of course, they need to do a whole load of other things too - but I’ve yet to see an example of a successful online shop that wasn’t built on a foundation of easy product selection. You can have the most elegant design and the most efficient shopping cart and checkout in the world, but it won’t help you one bit if people can’t easily find what they want.

For eCommerce businesses with large and diverse product ranges helping customers find the right product can be a challenge. You might think that product filtering offers a simple answer. Well, you’re half-right. It is the answer, but not necessarily a simple one.

Plan and test

Poorly planned or inappropriate product filters might do more harm than good. Lead shoppers up blind alleys or present filtering options that don’t make sense or don’t make a positive contribution to the shopping experience and you could cause distractions and frustration. I’m sure I don’t need to point out what distractions and frustration will do to your conversion rates.

Point 1 - a shop is not the same as a warehouse.  You need to think about your products in the way that a customer will when they are making a choice. This might not be the same way that you would organise your inventory.  What are the product features and concerns that would be the most likely selection criteria for customers? That’s what should guide the design of your product filters.

To illustrate the point, here’s an example of a site that does it really well. How do I know this? Because we’ve tested the effects of the filtering options on completed sales.

eCommerce product filters

The Luxury Beauty Company is, as you might expect, a seller of top quality beauty products; toiletries, bath products, make-up, moisturisers and the rest. The sort of product you want may depend on a host of factors: purpose, part of the body, brand and even details like whether you have skin conditions or are concerned about eco-friendliness.

Look at the filtering options down the left of the page and you’ll see that The Luxury Beauty Company has done a good job of pre-empting the filters that shoppers will go through in their own minds when making a selection.  

In the Bath and Body section there are the basic product categories in the top section. Note this is not how you would organise stock – they are based on how customers think about the products. You can then filter by brand, collection or ‘concern’. Customers can refine selections based on whether they are most interested in prolonging their holiday tan, choosing natural or organic products, or have dull or sensitive skin. Selections available depend on which category you're in and if they’re applicable.  These are probably not the most obvious filters to you and I but they are ones that it has been proven that shoppers find helpful.

The really smart thing about the ‘concern’ filter is that the options change depending on the main category selected. So if you select ‘Suncare’ you get the following set of concerns:

  • After Sun Treatment
  • Natural, Organic & Ecocert
  • Refresh & Awaken
  • Stretch Marks
  • Sun Protection
  • Tattoo Protection

It’s not hard to see how this really adds to the shopping experience and helps people find exactly the right product for them. But how many of those filters would you have chosen without understanding how this business’s customers behave?

None of this happened by accident. It wasn’t the result of a quick brainstorming session to agree the filter categories. It was based on understanding customer behaviour and preferences and was refined using event tracking to understand which filters are most commonly used and most effective.

Filters used correctly can mean more PPC sales

Here’s another reason why organising your data for intelligent filtering makes commercial sense: making efficient use of your AdWords budget. The more precisely you can filter your products, the more easily you are able to create highly targeted PPC campaigns by linking directly into your filtered results.

If, for example, the finest level of filtering you can achieve is ‘men’s shoes’, any PPC campaign you ran would be likely to get clicks from people who wanted either brown shoes, black shoes, formal shoes, casual shoes, trainers and who knows what else, which might not be part of the promotion. Alternatively you’d have a PPC ad for a specific product that linked to a large page of options, most of which would be irrelevant.

If, on the other hand, you could create a campaign that targeted men’s black leather brogues in UK size 11, you could be sure that only people interested in this particular style would click through. If you have appropriate product filters you can ensure they land on a page showing only men’s black brogues in UK size 11.

Long-tail benefits

Given the long-tail phrase your traffic from this PPC ad will be far more likely to convert. As if that wasn’t enough, given the more unique keywords you’re likely to incur a far lower cost per click fee on these click throughs. With effective product filtering, these specific campaigns are much easier to manage.

You aren’t likely to get many clicks with just one advert in place, but when accompanying a conventional PPC campaign and using all your filter data you’ll likely find a very nice boost in conversions. Imagine all the long-tail phrases you could bid on if you offered 10 brands of men’s shoes, each in black & brown in sizes 5 through 13. That’s 400 unique long-tail adverts just for what’s likely to be 10 products with variations. Hopefully this has got you thinking about just how effective this could be for your business.

Our top tips for effective product filters:

  • Think like your customers, not your warehouse manager
  • Only use filters that are genuinely useful – don’t confuse the issue by using them where they don’t add any value
  • Have the products displayed change automatically as filters are applied, don’t ask shoppers to click another button to refresh or apply the filters

What about you? What are the most effective and even quirky examples you’ve seen of product filtering?