Category pages on large-scale eCommerce

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Nelson Rojas
June 16, 2020
15
min read
Research
In previous studies, we have been able to research product related pages, such as detailed pages, product list pages, and checkout pages. However, in the setup of a wide catalog online store, these pages are usually anchored to other types of pages that do not refer to products, but to the category they belong to.

According to the Baymard Institute, these pages are used in the first two or three levels of website hierarchy, after the homepage; for this reason, they are called intermediate category pages and can be considered as "high-level aggregate pages"[1]. They are particular, since "they do not show a list of products, but all the available subcategories they contain, each symbolized with a representative thumbnail image"[2], as seen in image 1, where thumbnails represent a category.

Image 1. Representative thumbnails of the categories.

The function of this type of pages is to guide users while making their browsing experience more efficient since a list of products for a higher level category would be too long and users would have to explore every corner of the page to find what they are looking for, which would imply a great investment of time and the frustration that comes with it. For this reason, category pages should "instantly convey category content and make major routes (subcategories) stand out among featured promotions and products"[3].

Generally speaking, intermediate category pages are beneficial, as they “promote navigation routes that encourage users to make a more deliberate selection of routes, as well as making good range selections”[4], all of which is accomplished by using subcategories, filters or promotions. The effect is that, when browsing a website, the user experience is more positive since it allows customers to find the products they are looking for, more efficiently. In conclusion, category pages are helpful, especially for "users who are indecisive or who do not understand the options and sub-options"[5]; in their case, thumbnails, titles, and descriptions are visual cues that guide them through navigation.

Currently, a large number of websites use intermediate category pages, reaching, according to the Baymard Institute, up to 62% of the main e-commerce companies, which place these pages at levels 1 and 2 of their sites' hierarchy[6]. However, this high percentage doesn't necessarily translate into effectiveness, since 52% have a below-average level of efficacy. This fact is worrisome since category pages are not only good for guiding users but also "are important for optimizing a website, as they are often utilized by users as a way to have fun and navigate the content of a website”[7], in other words, they are based on organic searches, with which they have a great SEO impact.


Methodological criteria for the analysis of category pages

Now, it is clear that category pages are essential for broad catalog eCommerce websites, for both their guiding role and their impact on optimization. For this reason, in this study, we have set out to describe the differentiating features of these pages in each of the different store modalities, for which we have had to determine the frequency of appearance of the features that characterize the category pages according to the following variables: store type, page features (hierarchy, structure, and types) and design (item size and spatial arrangement).

To achieve this, a corpus was created based on the category pages of the 35 most representative online stores in the United States; like in the previous studies, the criteria to determine which are these stores are those established by Finder[8], this allows us to derive a classification of the stores similar to that of our previous studies:

Table 1. Store Type, frequency and percentage.

Findings relevant to frequency study of category pages

Category page hierarchy

In the case of the 35 eCommerce stores that make up our sample, it was possible to determine that 97% tend to integrate the categories into the homepage, making the latter the main category page of wide-catalog eCommerce stores.

Image 2. Category page hierarchy

Image 2 represents a sample of the Homepage of Fashion, Unlimited, Beauty, and Home stores, in each of them, when clicking on the image that symbolizes each category, users are redirected to a product listing page or to a subcategory page, placing the category page of these stores in the first level of the hierarchy.

However, there are exceptions, as we can see in Table 2, where only one of the stores does not integrate the categories on the Homepage but uses intermediate category pages. This store represents only 3% of the total sample and it's Amazon's site (which belongs to the Unlimited store type)

Table 2. Category page hierarchy

Unlike the entire sample, Amazon's homepage showcases a list of best-selling products that redirect users to their respective detailed product pages. On the other hand, the category page is integrated as an intermediate page that appears on a second level, as can be seen in the sequence of image 3.

Image 3. Amazon’s Homepage and Intermediate Category Page


Elements on the structure of the Category Page

Another important aspect of the category page is the set of elements that make it up, according to our data it has been observed that these elements are:

1- Pure categories that refer to featured items

2- Categories blended with products and promotions

All of this can be seen in Image 4, which shows the contrast between a page with pure categories, on the left, and another with blended categories, on the right, which directs users, not only to an Intermediate category page but to detailed product pages.

Image 4. The contrast between pure and blended category pages

These variants of category pages are not presented in the same proportion in all cases, since, according to our data, pure category pages have a higher frequency since they make up 60% of the total sample, while blended category pages represent the other 40%. However, each store type manages these structures in a particular way, for example, Fashion and Home stores lean towards pure category pages, meanwhile, Department, Unlimited, and Beauty stores go for blended pages; Shoe stores, for their part, integrate them in a 50/50 distribution.

Table 3. Pure and blended Category pages based on store types.

Types of Category Pages

Even though, as we previously stated, 97% of our sample usually integrates the categories on the Homepage, it doesn't mean, however, that this is the only type of category page. Certainly, according to our data, 71% of websites do not have an intermediate category page, since most of them go from the category on the Homepage to the product listing page directly, however, 29% do have intermediate pages where they display more specific subcategories. This last percentage seems to be determined by the type of store since it is concentrated in Unlimited, Home stores, and a little in Department stores like Target (these results can be seen in Table 4).

Table 4. Type of Category Pages on different types of stores.

Generally speaking, unlimited product stores like Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, Newegg, and Walmart, due to their particularities, usually have a huge number of products, so, as we stated earlier, a complete list of products for a higher level category would be too long, it is better to organize the products in categories to make the browsing experience more efficient; for this reason, this type of store requires the use of intermediate category pages. The following images show how the hierarchy of these pages works in the structure of a website.

Image 5. First Level Category Page (Left) and Second Level Category Page (Right)

Once they are on the home page, users select a category, Sneakers, for example, this redirects them to an intermediate page where they will find various kinds of sneaker subcategories; once there, users select the subcategory and are redirected to the listing page where they can select the product.

The frequency's behavior, in this case, is an indication that suggests the presence of two types of pages: one that we call a single category page, and another that is commonly called an intermediate page.


Design aspects of category pages

In this case, we have focused on two essential aspects: the size of the item that represents each category and its location on the page. What we could observe from a design point of view is that the categories of this type of pages are presented to users as representative images or items that symbolize the products of that category. Now, this item may vary in terms of size and location. Regarding size, generally, 3 different scales are commonly used to represent it: large, medium, and small, as can be seen in the following image.

Image 6. Scale of the items that represent product categories.

In this case, the size contrast is associated with the degree of emphasis that is assigned to a category. In other words, the larger the image, the more relevant it is, for example, if a category has exclusive products, discounts, or new releases, is emphasized by making the items larger.

Image 7. Item size vs emphasis degree.

Our data indicate that size is also associated with the location of a category on the page, since 69% of the pages in our sample place these large items exclusively at the top, while 29% usually do so simultaneously at the top and middle of the page.

Table 5. Large items location on a web page.

On the other hand, in 69% of the cases, medium-sized items are located in the middle part of the page, while 31% are placed in the lower part. It occurs similarly for small items, 66% are located at the bottom of the page, while 34% are placed in the middle. It should be noted that this trend is common in each of the different types of stores.

Table 6. Mid-size and small item location on a web page.

According to our data, there is an equivalence between the size of an item and the place it occupies, large item-upper part, medium item-middle part, and small item-lower part. Although in a lower percentage, this equivalence is relative in the last two cases, since it is possible that the location is inverted and that the small items are placed in the middle and the medium ones at the bottom, as can be seen in the following image where the right section represents the exact size-place equivalence, while the left represents the exception to this rule.

Image 8. Item size-place equivalence.

Conclusions

Due to the importance of the category page for the user interface and optimization of an eCommerce website, we have been very interested in determining what are their distinctive features in large scale stores. Regarding this topic, this study has reported the following results:

1- Depending on the place it occupies on the website's hierarchy, 97% of eCommerce stores tend to integrate categories on the Homepage. In this case, these categories not only give identity to the site but also turn the homepage into a category page. The exception to this rule is the Amazon store, which specifically uses second-level intermediate category pages.

2- Category pages are structured by pure categories that refer to featured items, or by blended categories with products and promotions.

3- Regarding the hierarchical level of the category page, it could be stated that 71% of eCommerce sites have only one category page, that redirects users to a product listing page and not to an intermediate category page.

4- Only 29% of websites have intermediate pages with subcategories. This percentage is concentrated in Unlimited and Home stores. This fact leads us to identify two types of category pages, a single one, generally located on the website's homepage, and an intermediate one, hosted on a second hierarchical level, which is typical of Unlimited and Home stores.

5- Generally speaking, unlimited product stores such as Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, Newegg, and Walmart, since they have a very large number of products on their sites, usually organize their products in certain categories to make their search more efficient, which is why this type of store requires the use of intermediate category pages.

6- From a design point of view, 3 different scales are commonly used to showcase the items that represent the different categories: large, medium, and small scale.

7- The size contrast is associated with the degree of emphasis that is assigned to a category. In other words, the larger the image, the more relevant it is.

8- According to our data, we can state that there is an equivalence between the size of an item and the place it occupies, large item-upper part, medium item-middle part, and small item-lower part. Although in a lower percentage, this equivalence is relative in the last two cases, since it is possible that the location is inverted and that the small items are placed in the middle and the medium ones at the bottom.


References

[1]Ash T, Ginty M, Page R. (2012).  Landing Page Optimization. Indiana: Wiley.
[2]Baymard Institute a. Intermediary Category Page. Accessed 13 March 2020.
[3]Baymard Institute a. Ibid.
[4]Baymard Institute b. Implement the First 1-2 Levels of the E-Commerce Hierarchy as Intermediary Category Pages. Accessed 13 March 2020
[5]Baymard Institute b. Ibid.
[6]Baymard Institute b. Ibid.
[7]Ash T, Ginty M, Page R. ibid.
[8]Finder: https://www.finder.com/online-shopping#Nike. Accessed 13 March 2020
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