A cell phone, headphones, and a credit card used for eCommerce

updated October 2020

Understanding the difference between categories and attributes when setting up your eCommerce website is vitally important (if you want the User Experience to be just right). This post will help you better understand the relationship of Categories and Attributes (and how to use them correctly).

Product Categories

Think of your Users, ALWAYS think of your Users. They need to quickly drill down to what they want to find… and frankly, sometimes they may not even know exactly what it is they’re looking for. A solid category hierarchy with a depth of attributes will help you create the most engaging experience.

Think of a Department Store: we’ll use Target as the example. Really, Target? Yes, really…

Each Department in the store has its own grouping of products and they’re all very different. Let’s say you want a pair of Jeans (does Sears even sell clothing anymore?)… and you’re a dude. You know what? You’re not going to find what you’re looking for in Electronics or Tools. So off you go, a walk over to the Apparel department…

As we’re creating the online experience we’ll think of the real world example in relation to “Departments”, the Parent Category would be “Apparel” or “Clothing” -This area of the store is different than what you’ll find in Tools or Electronics. And now, (as we know what we’re looking for) we’ve narrowed down the Child Category, “Men’s Apparel”.

Product Offering

Each store is different. Target has a broad range of products with different Departments. If your store doesn’t need to have a broad selection of departments like Target (with tools, electronics, clothing, etc), you can treat your categories differently. For example: if you have a shop that sells clothing, shoes and accessories, your parent categories will already be narrowed down: Men’s, Women’s, (and maybe accessories). Think of the User, dial in their first intent (the broad search) and there you’ll find your top level/Parent categories.

In the store (as it should be on your website), “Men’s Apparel” is its own “Sub Department/Category” of Apparel. You’ll want to segment each “child” of their parent. Think of the aisles and layout: Apparel area, Men’s section, massive wall of Jeans (or shirts, formal clothing, swimming suits, etc).

In the case of finding “Jeans” for a dude: They’re most likely located in: Apparel: Men’s Apparel: Jeans. Now, located in “Men’s Apparel” there will be several Children Categories of “Men’s Apparel”: Jeans, Casual Pants, Polos, Shorts, etc… These categories will be on a third level of your category structure (Parent: Apparel, Child: Men’s Apparel,  Grandchild: Jeans) -In this example, (locating Jeans for a dude) that’s as far as we need to go with Categories.

Now, on to attributes (which will break down our hunt for the right pair of jeans even further).

Product Attributes

We’ve narrowed down the category (which happens to be a “Grandchild” of “Apparel” (Apparel: Men’s Apparel: Jeans). Now, we need to drill down to the exact pair of “Jeans” we’re looking for. The rest of the options here will be our Attributes and they may include: (Color, Style, Brand, Waste Size, Inseam Length).

What are Attributes?

Attributes are elements of information that can add more precise detail about a specific product.

By using attributes effectively, we’re giving the User the ability to easily refine their search on your website. Attributes are the perfect way to help your potential customer (User) find exactly what it is they’re searching for.

Product Filters

With a an eCommerce store, your goal should always be to make it as easy as possible for your users to find and purchase the product they want, as quickly and easily as possible. Don’t believe us? Just read our eCommerce Case Study to learn more.

One of the most effective ways of accomplishing this, is through simple, easy to use Product Filters. If you’re using WordPress (and obviously, you should be using WordPress) then using a combination of the Advanced Custom Fields and FacetWP plugins will help you create the perfect online shopping experience for your customers.

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