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How does a product taxonomy help you? Imagine you go to a department store to get a few things. Naturally, you’d go to the “dairy section” for dairy products, “fresh” section for fresh vegetables and fruits, “toiletries” for shampoos, soaps, etc, and so on and so forth. How do you know this? Because you’ve been going to department stores since you were a kid and all of them have the same layout! It’s like a rule out there. Imagine if they’d put shampoo in the cereal section. You’d be confused and probably, annoyed, right?

Your online store is similar. Visitors and customers who come to your store have certain expectations of product categories, search and the feel of the site. They expect to find “heels” under “women’s footwear” and “suits” under “men’s clothing”, and so on.

Every visitor who comes to your site is either a “searcher” or a “browser”. Just like when you visit a physical store, you either know exactly what you want or just want to explore. Similarly, even for an online store, you either know precisely what you’re looking for or just browsing.

It is no brainer that a clear and structured product taxonomy will help you browse through categories and reach the desired product page. However, along with browsing through products, product taxonomy also facilitates search engine results and faceted searches (details discussed further in the post).

What is Product Taxonomy?

“Taxonomy” was derived from the Greek word “taxis”, which means “arrangement”. In short, taxonomy is organizing, classifying, grouping and also, understanding the intent behind the same. Hence, product taxonomy becomes the logical way of categorizing, grouping and organizing the products. It requires a deep understanding of the products and then forming a logical way to present them.

Product Categories Product Taxonomy
Product Categories

Here’s how products are usually listed. Back to our example of heels, it would be:

Home -> Women -> Footwear -> Heels/Flats/Boots

Precise, logical and serves its purpose. Now, what about the following:

Home -> Women -> Footwear -> Formal/Casual/Party

Logical, again? Right. Each of these is a reasonable choice. By understanding the way your customers shop (through studying analytics, etc), you can categorize products in such a way that makes the most sense to them and ultimately, leads to conversions.

A typical ecommerce categorization
A typical e-commerce categorization

How can product taxonomy boost sales?

Improve user experience

Naturally, the organization appeals to the eyes. When you go to a department store, you’re likely to go through well-structured shelves rather than shuffle your way through the chaos. Your online store is no different. For instance, going back to our shoe example, you’d go to:

Home -> Women -> Footwear -> Heels

If you’re looking for heels whereas you’d navigate to:

Home -> Women’s Clothing -> Western Wear

if you’re looking for a pair of jeans.

Just like people expect “vegetables” in the “fresh” section, they also expect to find products in intuitive categories on your online store. Whether they are looking for a specific product or browsing through your store, they’d want to go from a broader category to a more specific category and eventually reach the required product page (read here about recommended features on the product page).

Evidently, a structure that may seem logical to you may not be intuitive to the customer. Hence, it is advisable to be the user yourself before you create a product taxonomy. Test various queries and log the logical steps to reach the final product page. Ideally, you would want to reduce the number of steps a customer takes to purchase, which means, you should make your taxonomy as simple and clear as possible.

Better on-site classification and faceted search

Every visitor who comes to your online store is either a browser or searcher, i.e., either she knows exactly what she wants or she is just exploring and comparing options. Therefore, she will either explore the product categories or use the search feature. As a result, product classification and search are the key to the user experience and eventually, revenue.

Amazon’s product classification is fairly intuitive. If I’m looking for a laptop, I’ll navigate to:

Home -> Mobiles, Computers -> Computers & Accessories -> Laptops

Whereas if I’m looking for a pen drive, I’d go to:

Home -> Mobiles, Computers -> Computers & Accessories -> Drives & Storage ( Data Storage ).

Categories on Amazon
Categories on Amazon

While classification is logical, notice how they handle product attributes. There can be multiple use cases for buying a laptop. I would need a laptop for everyday tasks, travel, business or gaming. I might have certain requirements for the Operating System, processor type, memory size, etc. However, each of these is an attribute of the laptop, not category. By describing the product’s attributes, you make it easier for your site to search for the product (on-site search example here). For example, if a visitor searches for “Windows 10 Laptops”, your site’s search would retrieve only the products for whom the value of the attribute “Operating System” is “Windows 10” (more about faceted search later in the post). (Hot Laptops ).

Attributes on Category Page for Amazon
Attributes on Category Page for Amazon
Attributes to facilitate faceted search
Attributes to facilitate faceted search

Clarity for product owners

Product taxonomies help you define clear product owners. This should help you define clear accountability of products and bridge the gap between how your sales team wants to position the product and how the product owner does it. This will also help you determine which product belongs to which category and what attributes you wish to associate a product with. For future references, you and the rest of the team would always know who to go to for a product change request.

Stronger reporting and analytics

When you’re in business, you aim to be in it for the long run. Hence, it is imperative for you to identify what works and what doesn’t. As a result, you’d also want to analyze the best-selling, most popular, non-selling products and categories. With distinct divisions, it is easier for you to segment the entire catalog and strike out the ones which do not sell. This will also help you determine the products/categories you should have in a “featured” section (if you decide to have one on the homepage or the hamburger menu). Proper product classification will facilitate all of this and make your reporting more and more accurate, enabling you to make data-driven decisions.

Best Practices for Product Taxonomy

While product taxonomies are different for each business and you’d know how you want to classify products for your business better, here are a few practices every business should follow.

Don’t over-categorize

We cannot stress it enough! It is exciting when you start creating a product taxonomy and it is totally normal to be swayed away with the “number of categories”. However, if a customer spends more time navigating through products than actually looking at products, you need to have a serious look there!

Over-categorization not only confuses the customer but also increases the probability of a product being listed in more than one category. Here’s a classic example of a classification we wouldn’t recommend. Repeated categories, difficult to select a product category and pure confusion – you’d rather stick to a basic product classification tree in this case!

Over ecommerce categorization example
Over-categorization example

Identify attributes vs sub-categories

We spoke about how Amazon differentiates between sub-categories and attributes of a product, e.g if use case was a sub-category, features like operating system, memory size, etc were classified as attributes. While such classification makes navigation easier, it also facilitates on-site search (also known as faceted search).

In order to come up with a clear hierarchy of products, we suggest starting with data. Identify top-selling products which share common attributes (the type of product, usage of the product, etc) and also analyze how users search and navigate through them. You’d also want to check how your competitors list similar products to understand user expectations.

Dorothy Perkins classifies dresses based on “occasion” whereas “style of the dress” is listed as the attribute.

Dorothy Perkins attributes for dresses
Dorothy Perkins attributes for dresses

Pick short and self-explanatory category names

This needs no explanation! Of course, the more self-explanatory your category names are, the easier it is for the end-user to navigate through, find what she was looking for and eventually, make a purchase. It is a good practice to consider the jargons and language your audience is familiar with when selecting category names. For example, if you are creating a category for a younger audience, think about all the trending ways you could name your categories as well as “the urban lingo” they are familiar with.

Givenchy shows how you can resonate with your audience using commonly used jargons. They cater to a more premium audience and define categories accordingly.

Givenchy self explanatory categories
Givenchy self-explanatory categories

Choose the level of standardization

In an ideal world, you’d have all possible permutations and combinations of attributes and its values and we’d all be happy. However, the reality is quite different. While it is easier to manage a set of 8 to 10 values for an attribute like “size”, it becomes difficult when attributes don’t take on a fixed range of values (e.g., color, brand, etc). In such a scenario, it is advisable to use tools to help you standardize these values.

For example, imagine if the attribute “color” could take all possible values. I know what “purple” means, but what on earth is “boysenberry”? Defining a level of standardization will avoid such an issue as well as help you IT-wise.

Remove duplicate and redundant category

Imagine if there were two “dairy sections” in a supermarket. You’d be rather mazed and probably wouldn’t know where to start looking for your favorite box of yogurt. Nonetheless, even the supermarket’s staff would be confused! They wouldn’t know where to arrange new products. Duplicate categories on your online store are similar.

While your employees would have a hard time indexing new products and refreshing the stock, the end-users would be all the more perplexed. They wouldn’t know where to start looking for the product they want or which category to navigate to.

Look at the following example. “Sweaters” and “winter clothing” are separate sub-categories, where ideally, “sweaters” should be a sub-category of “winter clothing”.

Redundant categories
Redundant categories

Conclusion

In the world of e-commerce, a strong product taxonomy structures your site making it easy for search engines to find products, and customers to navigate through, search, select and add products to cart, which eventually lead to checkouts and more sales. There are no strict rules for product taxonomies, however, you’d want to keep the above-mentioned thoughts in mind before designing one. Create a clean and faster discovery path for you and your customers.

What are some things you keep in mind when creating a product taxonomy? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below or write to us at [email protected].

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