Site search and product filters are an important part of the purchase journey and overall user experience on ecommerce sites.
If customers are unable to find what they’re looking for quickly and conveniently then it’s unlikely that they’ll stick around for very long.
A new report into the usability of online fashion retailers has found that several major brands have failed to get to grips with product search, which is likely impacting their conversion rates.
On the other end of the scale, women’s retailers Hobbs and Oasis were found to be providing an excellent user experience at this stage of the purchase journey.
The research was conducted by a panel of UX professionals who assessed each site in the context of a core user journey of browsing and purchasing an item.
The examiners rated the site on over 120 key touch points, which were tailored to provide a thorough, representative picture of the user experience.
I visited several of the sites included in the report to analyse their search and filtering for myself.
And for more information on this topic, check out our posts looking at nine tips to improve your product filtering options, plus 14 ways to improve the UX of on-site search results.
French Connection scored just 50% for its product search and a lowly 40% for the filters.
The report marked the company down for failing to make it clear what order results were displayed in or how many results were available.
The search tool isn’t immediately obvious when you land on the homepage, though it is there in the header represented by a magnifying glass.
I rather like the functionality as the tool appears as a dropdown that gives the user clear instructions on how to conduct a search.
Unfortunately the plaudits end there because FCUK’s search results are very poor.
The search tool seems unable to cope with apostrophes, so searches for ‘men’s shirt’ or ‘women’s trousers’ return 404 error pages.
Similarly, a search for ‘womens trousers’ return zero results and suggests that you might instead want to search for ‘mens trousers’.
Successful search queries lead to a painfully slow results page that only loads 15 items at a time, meaning you have to endure the loading wheel of doom every time you scroll down the page.
Another issue is that the filter options are hidden within a dropdown menu and there are only four options, one of which is a tiny text field that allows you to sort by price.
Finally, the results are just plain inaccurate. A search for ‘mens trousers’ claimed to have found 54 styles, when in fact it only displayed 34.
Hobbs was one of the high achievers in the report with a score of 80% for product search and 90% for filters.
It has a prominent search tool at the top of the homepage that includes simple user instructions.
However the search results are somewhat suspect. For example, if you look for ‘shoes’ then it returns 275 options, but a search for ‘blue shoes’ comes back with 603 results.
The latter search also returned some items that clearly didn’t match the query.
Inaccurate results were consistently a problem with Hobbs.
These are some of the items that were displayed on the first page of results after I searched for ‘red dress’.
On the plus side, Hobbs does offer customers six different filter options including size, type, stock availability and colour.
However it doesn’t allow users to filter based on price, which seems to be a glaring omission. Overall I don’t feel that Hobbs deserved to achieve such a high rating fro the report’s authors.
Oasis was another high scorer, achieving 90% for its filter options
Looking at the homepage, the search tool is prominently positioned though the meek colouring means that it blends in with the rest of the header.
The search results are of varying quality, though they are generally more accurate than those returned by Hobbs.
For example, if you search for ‘red dress’ then it returns eight relevant products. However a search for ‘red shoes’ is less successful.
Oasis needs to refine the way in which it tags products, as camisoles always show up in searches for ‘shoes’ and maxi dresses appear in results for ‘boots’.
Another problem is that the site frequently crashed when I tried to perform a secondary search from the results page. From the homepage the search tool always worked well, but for some reason it kept failing if I tried any subsequent searches.
On the plus side Oasis does provide a decent range of filter options, but these also need to be updated.
For example, the results page for ‘dress’ allows you to filter by type, size, colour and price. These are all useful, however the ‘type’ category includes options for ‘Not applicable’ and ‘Please update’.
In spite of the disparity in the scores achieved by each of these retailers, I would argue that none of them provide a decent user experience.
Hobbs and Oasis consistently returned inaccurate or irrelevant results, while customers are lucky if FCUK returns anything at all.
Similarly though all the sites offer an adequate range of filters they all suffer from glaring UX issues, such as irrelevant categories or the omission of obvious options.
If these three retailers are reflective of the industry as a whole, then clearly ecommerce businesses need to put greater emphasis on improving this crucial stage of the purchase journey.