This article is part of a series discussing what could be the perfect CSE for 2010. In a previous article, I discussed the opportunity for CSEs to implement a true product search, using product clustering for both hard and soft goods. Among the benefits of this approach is the ability to attach content to those products in far easier and more intuitive way than onto merchant offers. In this follow-up article, I will discuss what content I’m thinking about, and what improvements could be imagined to better navigate across those products and attached content.
There are so many user behaviors when it comes to shopping: those who know precisely what to buy, those who take months to do product research, those who are impulsive, those who are eco-conscious… Still, CSEs often provide pretty “static” navigation to browse products whatever the user goal can be, relying on the commonly-accepted pattern that is faceted navigation.
Faceted navigation is indeed a convenient way to filter down a result set, considering the facets are correctly defined and the number of facets remain acceptable (there are obviously other aspects to think about, but let’s consider those two for the sake of argument :) ). This leads most CSEs to implement a static and small list of facets per category; and this can lead to a pretty frustrating product research for those users who don’t find the filters they need…
Another limit in the way CSEs implement faceted navigation is that they tend to only provides descriptive or technical facets. That implies to find a camera by brand, megapixels, optical zoom ; or a pair of pants by brand, color, material… While those facets are obviously mandatory, I feel they become too restrictive especially on fashion or home decoration where people are more impulsive than on electronics or computing universes.
CSEs have then developed other ways (but not as efficient as faceted navigation) to go beyond descriptive facets:
Beyond those classic patterns to product navigation, there are also some new types of navigation that are emerging, i.e:
PriceRunner providing shortcuts to its faceted navigation, using Q&A style:
This is a topic I’ve discussed several times: I believe it’s time to enrich faceted navigation with filters related to product usage. Buzzillions and WisdomTap use the potential of user reviews to enhance product navigation with usage-related filters: a clever way that requires advanced text mining algorithms to be relevant.
Buzzillions has “Pros” and “Use” filters:
Without the need for such advanced algorithms, CSEs could rely on the “ratings per feature” to enhance faceted navigation. Wouldn’t it be nice for a user looking for his/her first digital camera to be able to choose a “type:compact” camera that is easy to use (“pros:ease of use”)?
Yahoo! Shopping US and ratings per feature:
Hunch uses another approach to provide usage-related attributes to products: its community creates shopping assistants with, obviously, a human touch that is very interesting.
Talking about Hunch: Hunch doesn’t use faceted navigation, but an assistant-like approach relying on questions & answers. I think it’s an interesting way to quickly understand what is the goal of the user (product research, quick finding…). I imagine a user interface where assistant-like approach and faceted navigation would be mixed. Such interface could embed and replace buying guides, and quickly adjust itself to the user. It should be able to support any number of facets in such a way only facets useful for the user are displayed.
For buying a camera, this interface would be able to answer uneasy questions such as: “I want an easy-to-use compact camera, what are my choices?” (beginner, product research), “Should I buy an advanced Bridge camera or a SLR?” (intermediate, product research), “I want a Canon EOS for any weather – which model should I get?” (intermediate, narrowed product research), “Nikon 3D, Nikon 3Ds, Canon EOS 1D Mark III, Canon EOS 1D Mark IV – which one?” (expert, precise product search).
Choosing the facets to be displayed using YouTellMe and its very precise product database:
There are now so many relevant data sources that provide facts, ratings, reviews on products that I foresee big CSEs will become more and more content aggregators to enrich their browse / search experience and meet user expectations. Today, such partnerships between content providers and CSEs are frequent; but usually the integration on the CSE side remains limited, mainly consisting on link exchange, when this content could be used to enrich filtering options. Some examples of such content providers:
If product browsing cannot be limited to faceted navigation (a good integration between browse and search is mandatory; cross-linking modules are important…), faceted navigation remains the right pattern to refine and filter down a result set; and an area where CSEs could innovate to better address user’s goals. Among those evolutions, I’ve discussed: