Faceted Browsing and Taxonomy

This entry is a work in progress intended as a tentative study of current use of faceted (guided) navigation in e-commerce settings and how it exposes underlying taxonomy to the user. This blog entry is NOT a critique of the sites discussed here but rather an exploration of navigation paths, taxonomy facilitated browsing and assumptions made regarding the inherent use of underlying information architecture and its impact on clarity and usability (directly impacting conversion and retention rates).

1. Lowe's.com [Captured January 2009]
There are several ways to navigate the site by browsing. The left column provides groupings that parallel the top horizontal menu. In the left column the user see items grouped by Departments and below that, items grouped by Rooms. Departments maps to the store or correspond to a mental model a user might have of the store, and Rooms map to a home or correspond to a mental model the user might have of a home. Providing multiple browsing models is a nice feature because it supports self identification - the user benefits from a flexibility to be at their comfort level, not the site's.
One can assume that the user is more familiar with the concept of a home, so it is a pity that the navigation the user is more comfortable with is secondary to the one the store's model. On the other hand, some users may also be very familiar with the store model. For example - store clerks or customer service reps. (But in my experience the in-store terminals are generally not similar to a company's public e-commerce store). In any case, the site exposes and organizes the highest level of its taxonomy and access to its products in two ways, which increases the flexibility and and probability the user will select one path to work with and not abandon the site.
The number of items under the Rooms model is obviously much shorter than those under Departments and more over, the Laundry Room is one of the items listed right there on this first level. But, browsing top down path 1 (See image below) is the first the user will encounter, clicking the Appliance link under 'Departments'.
>>> Assumption: The user would know/guess that a dryer is an appliance.
Path 1:
L1.1 - Departments
L1.2 - Appliances (click to get to L2)

If the user is more inquisitive and visually scrolls down to the Rooms section, the obvious, explicit selection is right there. (See image
Path 2:
l1.3 - Rooms
l1.4 - Laundry Room (click to get to L2)


Both browse path involve 2 clicks, so no efficiency is gained in terms of physical effort.