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E-Commerce Product Categories: How to Best Merchandise Your Products

One of the most common situations my clients deal with is determining the best product categories for their e-commerce website. This is especially true for startups or new companies who aren’t as well-versed in e-commerce strategy or design. The following is a modified excerpt from my ebook E-Commerce for Everyone: How to Launch a Successful Online Store Using Bigcommerce (or Other Hosted Platforms), which outlines possible categorization strategies you can use to help shoppers find products and increase your conversion rate.

The importance of effective product categories and navigation cannot be overstated. After all, if shoppers can’t find the products they want to buy, they’re not going to buy them – at least not on your website. To further complicate things, not all shoppers navigate the same way or have the same needs. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to provide a variety of category options so that all types of shoppers will be able to quickly locate and purchase the products they want.

Hierarchical Type Categories

The most essential way to merchandise your products is by their product type in a hierarchical manner. This means you’ll have a set of broad main product categories with one or two levels of subcategories below – the lower the category in the hierarchy, the more specific it will be.

For example, a furniture store might set up categories by room. But within each room, a shopper will need to narrow the results by a more specific product type. So in a Bedroom Furniture category, a store owner might create subcategories for Night Stands, Dressers, Armoires and Beds. Within Beds might be Bed Frames, Headboards and Mattresses.

These are the most common type of product categories and are therefore likely to be expected by your website’s visitors.

Attribute-Based Categories

If many of your products have features in common, it’s worth setting up attribute-based product categories. This method of organization cuts across Type categories and may appeal to a more style-focused or feature-focused shopper. For example, an online store selling video games that are already categorized by genre (type) may also want to offer categories based on operating system or platform. A television retailer should consider offering categories based on features like resolution, size or number of HDMI inputs.

Think about the attributes that are important to your customers and expose them as navigational elements through categories.

Function-Based Categories

It’s safe to assume that people are shopping your website because they need an item in order to do something. This could be anything from cooking a meal to celebrating an anniversary. If there are functional or occasion-based ways to categorize your products and you think they might be helpful to shoppers, there’s no reason not to offer them. For example a kitchenware store might offer product categories by cooking type, such as Mixing, Chopping, Baking or Grilling. Alternately, a gift shop should offer categories based on occasion.

Organizing Product Categories

When organizing your product categories, make sure they aren’t too broad or too specific. It’s frustrating for shoppers to navigate categories with hundreds of products while others have only a handful of products. Look at the initial list of items you’ll be offering and organize your categories so that each one has a manageable number of products that can be easily browsed.

Category names are also important. By using descriptive and recognizable category names, your visitors will quickly be able to determine where to find the product they want. To decide on the best category names, use tools like Google Trends or the Google Keyword Tool to see what people are searching for online. Using highly-searches phrases as category names will help your SEO and make the shopping experience more efficient for visitors.

Whenever possible, list your product categories either alphabetically or by order of broadest to most specific. Don’t put them in a seemingly random sequence and make your shoppers hunt for them.

Found this post helpful? You can download my entire ebook for Kindle here.