Why do customers leave your store? Categories and navigation [Part 2]

Have you ever asked yourself why customers leave your store? And how many reasons have you found? Just a few? Our ambition is to cover all of them in the articles “Why do customers leave your store?”.

In the first part we observed the list of reasons why customers leave your Homepage:

  • They don’t understand what a website sells
  • They can’t find the search field
  • Website’s ads are intrusive
  • They are skeptical
  • Website’s design is poor

If you haven’t read it yet, click the link “Why do customers leave your store?”.

The smart and non-frustrating website navigation menu for e-commerce business is a truly crucial thing. Any website’s navigation must be functional, accessible and usable. It’s a very bitter situation when a visitor of your store can’t find what he/she wants, wastes tons of his/her valued time and leaves your store full of anger and completely unsatisfied.

You see, sloppy site’s hierarchy can lead to fundamental misconceptions. Let’s look through common website navigation menu mistakes.

Mistake 1: Misconception between categories and filters

Categories and filters are completely different things and perceiving them as interchangeable is a critically harmful tactic. So many sites do this wrong and use categories in places when, in fact, will be better to use filters and vice versa. Such mismatch provides confusions and limitations for users.

Today we are ready to split these two notions once and for all. Categories are unique elements, they are part of product catalog hierarchy. They normally generate a new page which is either a sub-category page or a product list and often includes filter options. In their turn, filters are tools for narrowing down the product list within a category. Users can specify filters to meet peculiar needs.

Tip:  To find out which classification is applicable to a given product catalog, ask yourself:


For example, for “skirts” and “pants”, the size attribute will be essentially different, and the product type should be categories. Compare this to “women’s bike helmets,” “one-size bike helmets,” and “waterproof bike helmets,” where the product attributes will be the same – these should instead be one “helmet” category with a product type filter, possibly with separate filters for size, features, and gender.

Mistake 2: Only one item to access all products 

Not only the Homepage plays a big role in website’s type inferring, but also product categories. Having in main navigation only one item “Products”, “Catalog” or “Categories” to access all the product categories is a poor idea. “Products” button badly affects navigation experience. So, customers will face troubles to infer what type of products you carried, sometimes they can even misinterpret the website for being as not as an actual e-commerce site.

“Products” button necessitates double-hover website navigation menu, which is generally unwelcome.

So, users first have to hover the singular main navigation item

to reveal the main category options, then move the mouse downward within the narrow hover area, and then, when having found the main category they like, move their mouse in a straight horizontal line within a hover area of very short height, to arrive at the larger hover area for the sub-categories.


Tip: Place the top-level product categories in the permanently visible main navigation bar to make them immediately visible and accessible to the user.

Mistake 3: Lack of visual representation 

Only imagine, you see a lot of small words without any visual delimiter. Think how much you might be overwhelmed when you try to discern something you need.

Visuality helps buyers to distinguish parent, child, sibling categories and not only in main navigation dropdown, but also in left-nested filters.

When you pay more attention to visuality it increases scalability, reduce choice paralysis and make it easier to compare relevant options.

In other words, having a visual hierarchy in filters and category lists is important for the same reasons as it is in drop-down navigation, and it can be indicated with largely the same design techniques.



Tip: Give your buyers clear vision distinction between the headers and the sub-category links (such as font size, color, and capitalization). Be sure to include a spatial indicator, such as “ >” or “+”, for users to know that some sub-options are currently hidden.

Make text labels on categories link leading to a page providing a more detailed overview of the sub-category options. Having no shallow categories will eliminate doubts of suspicious users.

Mistake 4: No sibling categories on product pages 

It’s a generally known situation when a user is unsure about the nuances of two or more categories and therefore goes to one, then checks information and determines that it isn’t a great fit and then wants to proceed to the next sibling category which may prove a better fit.

Despite this being a very common navigation pattern, the problem is that 56% of websites don’t give users an opportunity to use sibling categories.

It is important to stress that the point of showing sibling categories provides users with permanent access to alternative navigation paths.

Tip: So, as a user gets stuck in one category (e.g. “Dining tables”), he’ll look for a new path and be able to see his most obvious alternatives: the siblings (e.g., “Dining chairs” or “Kitchen Tables & Islands”), which are still within the same parent scope (e.g., “Dining room & kitchen”) but not the same as the currently shown category. In short, it is a category scope adjustment as opposed to a full scope switch. See below, how PotteryBarn does it.


Mistake 5: Absence of “What’s new” category

How often is your web store replenished with new products? Often? And one more question to you. Do you have “What’s New” or “Fresh in season” category? No?

Many users will want to see “what’s new” in your store to avoid having to plow through previously browsed products, if they want to be inspired, or when buying for someone else.

For example, they can check your website from time to time, so if you have “What’s New” category it makes the process of finding new products that are now available in your store since their last visit much easier.


Tip: It’s especially urgent for seasonal industries such as clothing or groceries. But don’t perceive this point too literally. For example, fresh apricots aren’t literally new since they are in stores every year. But they are new to the store around summertime, and most users will, therefore, expect to find them in  “What’s New” section. Indeed, the category or filter shouldn’t necessarily be called “What’s New”; often, alternate labels such as “New Arrivals” or “In Season” are more suitable.

Mistake 6: Inclusion of too-specific categories in drop-down menus

Overdoing is a good synonym to this mistake. Drop-down menus often prompt online merchants to display product-sub-type categories in the main navigation drop down as much as possible. Unfortunately, this tactic represents a great risk of misunderstanding among users.

Tip: During the process of sub-categories grouping ponder how deep a level of categories you will want to display. And then group sub-categories into thematic and clickable headers.

Thus, most drop-down menus should contain two category levels below the navigation item: a parent category (e.g., “Living Room”), and sub-category children (e.g., “Sofas”, “Chairs”, etc.).

Mistake 7: Your categories are not descriptive

Your navigation is a place where you start a conversation with potential buyers. If category naming includes any industry jargon, brand or site-specific words, it’s very unlikely that your conversation will start.

Shoppers should be able to scan navigation labels and instantly understand what those labels represent within the store context.


Tip: Avoid the ambiguously named options because they are mostly ignored or users find themselves frustrating. Instead, more descriptive category names should be used, giving the user a better idea of what product types to expect. Also, it will be a great bonus for SEO. If site- or industry-specific words are truly needed, consider making combined titles, which include both the jargon and the descriptive words.

Are you making these navigation mistakes? Follow our tips, check your analytics and share your results with us in the comments.

Aitoc Team
Aitoc is a young team of passionate professionals delivering robust Magento extensions. Founded in 2001, Aitoc has produced over 100 modules for clients worldwide. The company continuously evolves, now offering a full range of custom ecommerce development services.