May 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

Adding guided navigation to a retail site can help shoppers find items fast

Compared to site search, some experts say, guided navigation provides a quicker, more precise way to help shoppers find what they’re looking for. Weathertech.com implemented mandatory guided navigation and realized a climb in conversion from 6% to 10%.

When designing an e-commerce site, retailers must consider how to get a shopper to the product she wants quickly. Site search is an important tool to accomplish this and one many shoppers employ. But it allows for many products to be displayed, and may not list the most relevant products if the shopper does not enter the best search keywords. As a result, site search potentially may slow the shopper, who’s trying to figure out which of the products in search results is the one she’s looking for.

Another method may be quicker, as it allows shoppers to drill down from category to features with great speed. Guided navigation is a tool that should be considered by retailers when redesigning their sites, site design experts say. It can become an important element of the site experience because it gets shoppers to the products they want expeditiously.

One strategy for improving guided navigation is to make the feature the mandatory starting point for any onsite product search. Site design and development firm Americaneagle.com Inc. has developed such a guided navigation system for Weathertech.com, a retailer of auto parts and accessories.

After navigating to the retail site, shoppers are required to enter the make, model and year of the vehicle for which they are buying accessories, or they can enter the product type. In both cases, shoppers select the required information from a pull-down menu. Shoppers that enter the make, model and year of the vehicle are shown product categories specific to that vehicle and can drill down further from that point by clicking on a category. Shoppers selecting a product are shown that product.

The change to guided navigation from open-ended site search boosted the retailer’s conversion rate from less than 6% to 10%, Americaneagle.com reports.

“The retailer wanted to improve the way shoppers search for products specific to a vehicle, as well as specific types of products, and decided that steering shoppers into guided navigation was the best way to eliminate the risk of having site search return unsatisfactory results,” says Americaneagle.com chief operating officer Mike Svanascini. “In the current economy, guiding shoppers to the products they are looking for in as few steps as possible is going to create a more satisfying shopping experience and boost conversion rates.”

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