Most online retailers have some kind of sale on at the moment, but some sites make it easier than others for customers to browse the sale items painlessly. 

Rather than providing long lists of sale products, customers need sorting and filtering options so they can hone their product search and find a bargain without too much effort. 

I've been looking at some examples of January sales and filtered navigation from e-commerce sites... 

Why use feature filtering? 

Unlike standard e-commerce navigation, where the customer can only choose from a hierarchy of links chosen by the retailer, effective feature filtering allows the user to find their own route to a product, by combining features in different ways as they search the product range.

This can also be a persuasive feature for customers; as the number of products narrows, the closer they are to a purchase. 

In addition, it allows shoppers to avoid much of the pain of finding products. In sales, when there are often hundreds of products to display these tools are essential.

Customers may approach an online sale looking for a particular product, or they may have no fixed idea. By making browsing easy, and allowing customers to gradually narrow their selection, retailers can provide a better user experience for shoppers. 


This is how not to do it. BHS hasn't provided any filtering options for shoppers, and only splits products up by broad categories. 

For example, if you head for the women's shoes and boots section, then you have 100+ items to view, split over five pages with no further options to narrow the search. 


This means more time and effort for customers, who will also have to click on individual product pages to check the availability of the particular size they need. 


The Next sale can be accessed via a red link on the homepage, though since it started a couple of days after Christmas, it's just the tail end of the sale now. 

Since some items are only available in limited sizes and numbers, customers need some help searching. Next has provided some decent filtering options, and users can narrow by size, department, price and keyword: 

Jan sales 1

However, the product categories are quite specific (29 different categories for Men's) which means that shoppers will be spending a lot of time selecting items from the drop down menu unless they want something very specific. 

In addition, multiple sizes cannot be filtered at once, so if you are perhaps unsure of shoe or shirts sizes, then more searches will be needed. Also, while you can filter by UK shoe sizes, the sizes shown next to products are the US/European ones, which is a pain. 

Rather than linking to product pages, Next simply lists 16 items per page with a small product photo and price: 

jan sales2

This means that shoppers are unable to see any further products images or technical details. This may not matter so much for a £15 t-shirt, but it does for other items, such as electrical goods. 

For example, who will buy this mobile phone from Next if they can't even see details like battery time, or whether it has features like Bluetooth? 


Customers can see full product pages for sale items on Argos, and the filtering options are good, but need to be more specific. 

For example, if I'm looking for a toaster in the sale, I can select 'small kitchen appliances', but then I still have 72 results. If I'm looking for a toaster, I can't filter for this, and will have to look through all the results:


John Lewis

John Lewis allows users to search by broad categories such as 'kitchen and dining', before allowing users to select more specific sub-categories. This allows users to be as broad or as specific as they want to be: 



The filtering options on the Schuh sale are an excellent example. There are hundreds of shoes and boots in the sale, but shoppers can get as broad or as specific as they like. 

Customers can filter by product type (shoe, boot etc), brand, price, size, style, colour, price and category, which is comprehensive enough. 

Crucially, customers can select multiple filters at once, so they can search for a number of brands in a couple of sizes. The number of matching products in each category is also shown, which helps customers to avoid returning no results at all, while filters can be removed as easily as they are applied.



I asked Lovehoney's Matt Curry about his approach to displaying sale products and filtering options: 

I'd say filtering and sorting should always be there, but as a backup, so if a visitors lands in a sale category, they have a way to get what to where they want to be without pagination. The problem with sales is that you end up with lots of oddities on the page. 

So I ended up using lots of curated sales pages. Fortunately we've got a fantastic content team, who'll go through everything in the sale (about 700 products when we started it),pick stuff they like and put together a great narrative for promotions. We'll then propose it all in our pre-sale content meetings, finalise the "stories" for the sale, commission any blog, PR and affiliate content, and start merchandising. 

Jan sales10

There are drawbacks to this curated approach though, as it does require more effort. According to Matt: 

The problems with curation is management, it takes a long time to put everything together, and it took me a fair few days. Then you have to continually monitor for out-of-stocks and re-merchandise. We do have tech here that allows me to populate areas on the site with a logic-driven feed, but for what you gain in ease-of-use, you lose in control.

Comments and questions please...

We'd love to hear from other online retailers about the best approach to online sales and filtering. What approaches have you used? What has worked best for you?

Please let us know below... 

Graham Charlton

Published 5 January, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (4)

Andrew Steel

Andrew Steel, Strategic Marketing Planner at Equator

Sales are a tough one to be fair. How much effort it is worth putting into the sales search functionality of a site will be dictated by the quantity, type and average value of the stock, coupled with sales patterns.

I think it's worth bearing in mind that retailers are simply looking to shift excess/undesirable/out of fashion stock and are cutting margins to do so - hence, a sale! Therefore, spending a lot of time and money (development effort, staffing for management etc) to do so doesn't necessarily make sense where ROI is concerned. Yes, branding and up-selling are big factors, but the ROI for these factors is harder to predict.

The shopper mentality to sales is also a bit different to normal. People have become conditioned to "bargain" hunting in sales and therefore probably have a bit more staying power when it comes to having to trawl product listings.

Also, the discovery element of buying is quickly nullified if shoppers are able to search at too granular a level - "discovery" purchases are a big part of sales in general. Everyone, at one time or another, has purchased something in a sale they typically wouldn't have, were it not for the fact that the price made it "worth a punt".

Therefore, as I said at the beginning of my comment, sales are tough.

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Andrew, 

Good points, and perhaps some retailers may feel the effort isn't worth it. However, if companies like Next are spending money promoting sales to attract customers to the site, it makes sense to offer them the best possible user experience. 

over 7 years ago

Andrew Steel

Andrew Steel, Strategic Marketing Planner at Equator

Does it make sense ROI wise?

Again, going back to the shopper's "sale mentality", it's still much easier viewing products on the website than enduring the trudge of the high street.

I'd be interested to know just how many retailers make specific changes to the search functionality of their sites purely to deal with sales and what the returns on these changes are.

Note - I agree with much of what you've said, but I think it's important to consider the counter-points too.

over 7 years ago


David Cortland

The displaying of products, sales, promotions and making it easier for shoppers to find what they want is something we invested a lot of time in the development of On the homepage we added three tabs with unique banner messages (What's New, Best Sellers, Clearance) trying to minimize the number of clicks to find the a good deal. The filter "Sort results by" feature within the category was developed based on what we felt people would want to filter by when shopping. We have found a significant click-thru rate and conversion on the products under the tabs. We are in the process of creating a more intelligent search/filtering feature. The component would allow the user to check off their conditions and the recommended products would be displayed. Think of it as a sales person asking questions at a brick and mortar store. I would like to know what you guys think of the site overall and if you have any additional recommendations to improve the customer usability experience. Thanks, David

over 7 years ago

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