I’ve just noticed (via Twitter) an excellent new feature on Zappos.com, which provides a different way to browse through the retailer’s ranges of shoes, watches and handbags.

Called Explore Zappos, it allows users to browse through the site by looking at a large number of items at once, and seems especially well suited to products like shoes and other fashion items.

Explore Zappos visual search

Users simply choose to browse through the product category they want to; men’s shoes, women’s shoes, men’s watches etc, and Zappos displays small thumbnails of all the items in that category, as above. This means that customers can see more of the product range at any one time, up 50 items on a page.

With so many products (15,000+ in the men’s shoes category alone) filtering tools are required to narrow down searches to a more manageable size, and the tools provided are very usable.

Customers can filter by price range, discount offers, size, brand and colour:

Zappos filtering tools

So, if you want a pair of green shoes, that’s all Zappos will show, or at least shoes with a bit of green in them:

Zappos green shoes filter

Zappos is not the first site to use such visual search tools, others like BrowseGoods, TheFind and Mpire launched sites with similar visual browsing functions nearly two years ago, but Explore Zappos has the best user experience I have seen so far.

Pages are quick to refresh once you have added new filters, so the whole search feature works smoothly. Also, filters can easily be removed or altered if your search doesn’t produce satisfactory results:

Zappos filters

Also, clicking on an item will produce more results of the same types of products. For example, clicking on a sandal from a page full of brown shoes will give you a page full of brown sandals, so users can search and find what they want with little effort required.

Hovering over shoes will give you the brand name and price, as well as a link for more details on the item. Another couple of clicks and you can purchase the item from the standard Zappos website.

Zappos link to purchase

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, such interactive tools can help differentiate etailers from their rivals, especially a feature as well designed and usable as this one, though I’m not sure why Zappos isn’t promoting this new visual search tool from its homepage.