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Faceted Filtering for eCommerce Websites: The Definitive Guide

Argoid Tech Team


As heavy-duty as the phrase sounds, you’ve probably encountered the faceted filtering feature at many points during your eCommerce shopper journey. In this comprehensive guide, we deep dive into understanding what faceted filtering means and how eCommerce websites can leverage this all-powerful feature to drive a positive search UI experience and boost brand affinity.

Let's jump right in.

What is Faceted Filtering?

Let's start by understanding the faceted navigation definition. Facets - commonly known as smart filters, are essentially a type of search filter that help customers in narrowing down the search results instantly. Unlike static filters, faceted filtering is dynamic in nature. In simpler words, faceted filtering can change in response (and context) to the search query. 

For instance, your search for "makeup" might return different filtering options from, let’s say, "gym equipment." Since the filters change depending on what the customer types in the search box, faceted filtering helps personalize the user experience, boosts conversion rates, and leaves a positive impact on the end-user.

Faceted Search vs. Filtering: Key Differences

If you’re under the impression that facet filters and search are one and the same thing, we get it. It can be confusing as both serve the same end goal: helping customers find products quickly by:

  • Narrowing down search results to relevant suggestions
  • Eliminating results/pages that don’t match the selected criteria

However, there are notable differences between the two:

Parameter

Faceted Filtering

Filtering Search

Definition

Facets are filters but are more specific in nature and relate exclusively to the results from a search. In other words, facets will never be inaccurate or irrelevant to the search query.

Filters are referred to as broad categories that are selected by the user to get rid of pages/results on a site. Users can use only one generic search filter at a time.

Characteristics

       Exclude using the properties from returned results

       Change with each search

       Can be chosen before a search query has been entered, or immediately when presented with search results

       Is displayed depending on what your search query is and what the returned results are.

       Exclude results based on initial criteria

       Do not change with each search; hence, should be configured to be as general as possible

       Can be displayed as tabs on a results page or as navigational elements on web pages

 

Generally speaking, faceted filtering is considered to be more efficient than filtering search as multiple facets can be selected at once. This feature comes in handy when users are searching through a high volume of pages.

So, How Popular is Faceted Filtering?

Let's understand the popularity of faceted filtering with an example. Google implemented faceted filtering for "Google Images." If you type Xiaomi in the search box, you will see facets such as "Redmi," "Logo," "Price," etc., which are all generated by Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

Faceted Filtering Results for "Xiaomi" in Google Images
Source

If you think faceted filtering is extremely popular among eCommerce websites, the following examples will make you think again. As per research by the Baymard Institute: 

  • 61% of sites mandate users to search by the exact same product type jargon the site uses, or else the search will not return any results.
  • 61% of sites were below an acceptable search performance, ultimately misaligning with the user’s actual search behavior and expectations.
  • 15% of sites had a downright “broken” search query type performance.
  • 46% of sites don’t support thematic search queries. 
  • 32% of sites don’t support symbols and abbreviations for even the most basic units. 
  • 27% of sites won’t yield useful results if users misspell even a single character in a product title.
  • 25% of sites don’t support non-product search queries, like “returns” or “order tracking”.

The learning: eCommerce websites continue to demonstrate poor support for common search query types - a big mistake. Only 40% of websites offer faceted filtering capabilities, as per the Baymard Institute. Furthermore, according to research by Econsultancy, "Conversion rates through site search can be up to 50% higher than the average." If your eCommerce business is not leveraging the power of optimized search, you are already losing out to your competition. eCommerce giant, Amazon makes excellent use of its search functionality, allowing users to quickly find products of their choice. eCommerce customers today have sky-high expectations from an eCommerce brand and the user experience it delivers. 

Bonus material: For more information on the current eCommerce landscape, here's a helpful guide on eCommerce site search statistics and key site search metrics you should track.

So, Do You Need to Use Faceted Filtering on Your Website?

The short answer? Yes. An eCommerce website is all about the user experience it delivers to its customers. If your search isn't optimized, your customers will not be able to find the right product within seconds, leading to a poor user experience and disgruntled customers. This is where faceted filtering comes into play.

  • Specific search experience: It helps users to narrow down the search results from a more generalized topic to a more specific product using multiple dimensions or "facets."
  • Intuitive search experience: Brands can leverage their customer's natural tendency to use and organize data within categories.
  • Intentional search experience: It helps users to refine their search results more intentionally based on their changing interests and needs in real-time and get access to a wider display of product categories with varied attributes.

 

Other benefits of faceted filtering include:

  • Eliminates chances of information overload: It prevents customers from getting an "information overload" in instances when the search results return thousands of products and help save their time and effort in finding the right products.
  • Delivers a simplified and convenient user experience: It helps users to access products using the right filters as well as facets and deliver a simplified and streamlined user experience. Without the facets, your customers will be embarking on finding one product among thousands of options--similar to finding a needle in the haystack.
  • Helps in instances of generic queries: Not all your eCommerce customers will know exactly what it is that they want. In such a scenario, customers can use various facets such as color, size, brand, etc. to arrive at a product of their choosing. If your user's query is leaning on the more broad and generic side, using faceted filtering can help make the search more specific and attuned to match the shopper’s preferences and needs.

The learning: Quite simply, faceted filtering offers the best search and navigation functionalities. eCommerce brands must cater to the needs of users who engage in search as, according to data, users who search are between 2-4x more likely to convert than visitors who do not. Today, it is not enough to simply offer the faceted filtering functionality; eCommerce businesses need to adapt their faceted filtering constantly to address the dynamic user needs and rising customer expectations.

Faceted Filtering Best Practices: Important Points to Remember

When using facet search for eCommerce filter navigation, keep the following best practices in mind:

  • Clarity is key: Ensure clarity of choices to the extent possible as you want to simplify the shopping experience for your customers (not complicate it).
  • Creative facet formatting is essential: Use the color palette option as ASOS does to showcase different colors available and break the facet display format monotony of choosing multiple options with a checkbox feature:
Use of Color Palette Facet Format by ASOS
Source
  • Go for horizontal and vertical facets: If your website layout and end goals allow it, use a combination of horizontal and vertical options and make sure that the horizontal facet bar remains fixed, even with the infinite scrolling option.
  • Play it up with facet display options: Make use of display options such as scrolling, “many more,” submenus, sliders, checkboxes, etc. and allow customers to view the maximum information possible at one go. 
  • Make data your best friend: In order to continually improve your faceted filtering functionality, keep collecting real-time user data on how customers are interacting with facets and filters on your website. The data should be able to throw light on key questions such as which are the most widely used facets? Which facets are not being used by customers at all? This invaluable data will ultimately enable you to improve the overall structure of your faceted navigation.
  • Avoid the "no results" filter at all costs: Nothing annoys customers more than seeing the "No results" option. So make sure that your website does not show the "No results" option when customers are inputting their facet choices.
  • Ensure that your webpage refreshes quickly: If you want your conversion rates to soar, you need to ensure that your webpage refreshes quickly as customers change their facet options in real-time. A slow-loading page is the biggest conversion killer for eCommerce websites.
  • Use the breadcrumb trail option: To assist customers in quickly eliminating facet search options they no longer need, go for the breadcrumb trail option. With this option, customers will be able to see a list of previously searched items in the same session. The items are often accompanied by an "x" icon as shown below on the Lululemon website:
Lululemon’s Breadcrumb Trail Option
Source

In this option, as a customer keeps making a facet selection, it keeps getting added to the trail.

  • Allow users to choose multiple filters: By enabling users to choose multiple filters at once within a single facet, you can improve the customer experience and help make the customer's decision easier with every option they select (or leave out).
  • Always sort the values within the facets logically: Each facet option should have logical values. For instance, you can sort brands in alphabetical order or by unit counts. Facets such as size and price are generally arranged in ascending order whereas the average customer price facet is arranged in descending order. You can have best-selling categories featured on top or have "new releases" sorted in ascending order with the most recent releases right on top.
  • Make use of pop-up facets as needed: Pop-up facets are a must-have for eCommerce websites that want to avoid clutter. The pop-up facet generally shows up when a customer hovers over a particular facet or clicks on a facet to expand it. eBay's pop-up facet minimizes space usage and makes the website navigation look neat and clean:
eBay's Pop-Up Facet is a Great Example of Pop-Up Facets Done Right
Source

You can always mix and match with the facet display format. For example, you can use the "See all," "pop-up," and "scrolling" options together to make the customer experience seamless and friction-free while helping them to see the maximum values possible:

Overstock.com Uses All Three Options with Ease
Source
  • Ensure that the facet results represent products that are popular: In the end, the products being displayed should be ones that your users care about. Plus, it should be relevant to the search query. For example, if I type "Fit" in the search box on the Ralph Lauren website, I get an array of filters that have nothing to do with the 'Fitting" of the product:
Ralph Lauren's Website Demonstrates Inaccurate Search Results
Source

The word "Fit" Brings Up Irrelevant Search Results, Delivering a Poor Customer Experience
Source
  • Make sure that the search coverage is high: As a thumb rule, the facets should have a high coverage among the search results. Here's what this means: Say your customer has searched for shirts in the search column. If your search shows pants and shorts, your search has low coverage. 
  • Suggest what users can search for: The era of AI is upon us. And one website that uses AI in its search functionality with great effect is GAP. There are numerous facet search features that the website gets right. For starters, it has an auto-play and pause feature within the search which 'suggests' what a customer can search for. It includes all the common suggestions such as linen, jewelry, pajamas, dresses, and so on:
GAP's Suggestive Faceted Filtering Feature
Source

It also shows a list of "Trending Searches" to help customers search for things that are trending:

GAP's "Trending Search" Feature is a Cut Above the Rest
Source

Aside from the points mentioned, factor in the following best practices when creating a foolproof faceted filtering strategy:

  • While reducing the number of clicks, do not compromise the relevancy of the search results.
  • Keep tabs on the user history and search trends to improve and pivot your facet search game.
  • Make sure that your faceted filtering feature is mobile-friendly. This can be tricky as brands get lesser screen space on mobiles but it is a must-have as 80% of users are now active on mobile:
Amazon Uses the ‘Tray’ Overlay to Display Facet ControlsAmazon Uses the ‘Tray’ Overlay to Display Facet Controls
Source

The use of the Tray overlay is useful for many reasons:

One, it showcases the facet controls in the form of a ‘push-out’ style tray on top of the search results.

Two, this design paves the way for continuous visibility of results.

Three, even when the facet controls are open, you can see some data relating to the results in the background.

The learning: For eCommerce brands looking to deliver a superior customer experience, they need to go beyond the obvious and suggest to customers what they can search for. It is not enough for brands to simply answer user search questions; they need to ask the right questions. It is not enough to return relevant search results; brands need to preempt user needs and present it to them at every opportunity possible. It is these little user-friendly features that deliver a power-packed user experience in the end. Finally, remember that when it comes to faceted filtering, less is more. You want customers to get to their product of choice in as few clicks as possible with as little effort/time invested. Ideally, customers should be able to find their product with all of three-clicks (at the maximum).

Top-5 Best Faceted Search Examples: A Deep-Dive

In this section, we will look at some of the most inspiring faceted search examples in the eCommerce domain:

1. ASOS's Relevant Faceted Filtering Options

Faceted Filtering Options such as Category, Brand, etc. for Women's Clothing
Source

Here's why ASOS' faceted filtering feature is worth getting inspired from:

  • The facet as well as the options within each facet are relevant to the product (in this case, women's clothing). Women's clothing provides relevant facets such as size, style, price, fit, color, etc. That's not all; the filters within each facet offer relevant options to customers:
Relevant Filter Options within Each Facet
Source

As a thumb rule:

  • Provide customers with as many options as possible.
  • Think beyond the obvious facets such as price and brand; try to include all possible options specific to the category selected.
  • Place your facets horizontally (as opposed to vertically) as it provides users with a better view of the options. That said, if you have too many products to showcase or have a sale going on, you can go for a vertical view. A horizontal view can compromise the user experience in the latter's case as customers scroll down the page to view more products.
  • Do your homework and gather insights from numerous sources such as competitor sites, customer reviews, commonly searched keywords, expert reviews, and so on.

2. eBay's Facet Format Boosts User-Friendliness

There are numerous options you can go for when displaying facets in various formats. One super effective format is including links within the facet as eBay demonstrates below:

eBay's Facets are Linked to the Respective Page, Making the User Experience Convenient and Quick
Source

You can also include checkboxes, dropdowns, input fields, and sliders to display your facets. Just make sure to determine the data type and then zero in on a suitable display format. For instance, for the "Price" facet, you can have sliders instead of a dropdown as Zara demonstrates below:

Zara's Slider Option for the Facet, "Price"
Source

In the end, your objective should be to ensure that your customers are able to navigate and browse your website as easily and seamlessly as possible--and faceted filtering, when used right, allows you to do the same. Other key pointers to keep in mind with respect to faceted filtering display include the following:

  • Use checkboxes when you want customers to be able to include or exclude a particular option or choose multiple options as needed. A handy pro tip: Make sure that the entire area is clickable--and not just the tiny checkbox or you'll risk frustrating your customers.
  • Use dropdowns if you want users to limit their options to just one option at a time. This simplifies the user experience and makes it more targeted (and by extension, effective).
  • Play with different formats to see what's working for your website and what's not. 

3. Walmart's Customer Reviews is an Important Facet

Walmart has led the way for many eCommerce best practices--and one such best practice that eCommerce brands must embrace is using the "Avg Customer Review" as a facet option as shown here:

Walmart Effectively Uses Avg Customer Review as a Facet Option
Source

This option becomes extremely useful in gaining user trust and confidence. If you have a lot of customer reviews you can showcase, you must use it as a facet search option.

4. Lululemon's Personalized Faceted Search Options 

Lululemon's faceted filtering feature elevates the search game by providing customized options that cater to its current audience' primary interests. For example, its "Pride Collection" option is worth considering:

Lululemon's Facet Search Options Provides a Personalized Option: "Pride" Featuring Artist Simón Malvaez’s Collection to Celebrate LGBTQiIA+ Communities
Source

There are multiple ways in which you can customize the faceted filtering option:

  • You can use facet images if you want customers to be able to select specific colors, styles, and other options as Sunglass Hut showcases below:
Sunglass Hut's Facet Images Feature
Source
  • Amazon showcases unique facet options based on its user's needs, product characteristics, and industry requirements. For instance, its "Book" section 
Amazon's Book Section Showcases Facet Categories Based on Industry Classification and User Needs
Source

It has categories such as "100 books to read in a lifetime," "Award-winning books," "Indian language books," etc. that cater to a more defined target audience and are tailored to the target customer's profile:

Categories such as "100 books to read in a lifetime" Personalize the Facet Search Feature
Source

5. Nike's Expandable Facets

Nike's 'More' Option Under the Brand Facet Provides Customers with an Overview of All the Available Brands within Nike
Source

Use this feature when you want customers to be able to view maximum filters. They can simply choose the filters they want to view without having to select others. As a best practice, show some values under each facet instead of hiding all by default (which can lower usage) or showing all by default (which can overshadow other facets). Maintaining a balance will provide users with an idea of the kind of content to expect within each facet while promoting filters the right way.

The Bottom Line

All things considered, faceted filtering has emerged as the bedrock of contextual filters today. It literally carries the bulk of user queries. Owing to its 360-degree benefits, it has emerged as a must-have for eCommerce brands looking to capture a wider market share and improve the customer experience.

To wrap up, faceted filtering empowers users to narrow down the search results based on their likes, interests, and current needs. Users can arrive at the right product within seconds instead of having to browse through hundreds of irrelevant products. From the brand's perspective, it empowers brands to showcase their product catalog to users who aren't sure of what they want. Plus, it allows customers to feel heard and appreciated by the brand as the search experience improves and presents customers with options that truly matter to them.

One final piece of advice: If you truly want to make the most of this high-performing feature, think of it as the digital equivalent of an in-store salesperson. Think of it as the go-to point for your customers on your website where they can get all their concerns and queries addressed --all with the mighty power of the right search terms and phrases. Once your brand is able to tap into your customer's intent, intuition, and interests, the sky's the limit for your eCommerce platform. 

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