While web users do scroll below the fold on websites, the portion of space 'above the fold' still remains the most valuable, with 80% of users' time on sites spent in this area.
This is the verdict of Jakob Nielsen's latest blog post, which recommends that any truly important elements are left above the fold on the page.
Nielsen doesn't necessarily say that users won't scroll at all, rather that, the further a user gets down the page, the less attention is paid to the content:
It's as if users arrive at a page with a certain amount of fuel in their tanks. As they "drive" down the page, they use up gas, and sooner or later they run dry. The amount of gas in the tank will vary, depending on each user's inherent motivation and interest in each page's specific topic.
In the study carried out by Nielsen, users spent 80.3% of their time on webpages above the fold, and 19.7% below. This was carried out with a fairly average screen resolution of 1,024 × 768 pixels.
The article has some interesting eye-tracking shots too, which should show online retailers that cramming too many products onto one page is not such a good idea.
In the eyetracking shot of this JC Penney page which displays its sofa range, we can see how the users' attention diminishes the further down the page they get.
So, the first few rows of sofas get plenty of 'fixations'; between five and ten per sofa for the top two rows, and between two and four on the next four rows:
By the time we get towards the bottom of the page these users, to borrow Nielsen's analogy, have run out of gas. The bottom two rows don't even get any attention:
Perhaps in this case, JC Penney would be better advised to slice and dice its sofa range so that it is presented to users in more manageable chunks. Although it does have some filtering and sorting options further up the page, perhaps it should make them clearer for users.
There are certain elements that should be placed above the fold on an e-commerce site, such as key navigational links, site search boxes, calls to action, and more.
Also, if you do have information below the fold that you want to draw user's attention to, visual prompts such as this used on the Wiitshire Farm Foods site can help entice the user to scroll further: