How Many Products Should You Display on One Webpage?

Have We Been Wrong About How Many We Should Showcase?

Shopping Options
Shopping Options. Colin Anderson / Blend Images / Getty Images

Since the prehistoric man visited the first ecommerce website, products have been displayed in one of few standard formats. But since this prehistoric time was only about two decades ago, maybe it's time to relook at how products should be displayed.

To begin with, let's distinguish between the two kinds of pages:

1) Product Pages: These are pages that display one specific product. Usually, they have a product image on the upper left part of the screen.

2) Category / Collection Pages: These are pages that display several products. This could be the home page of the ecommerce website. Or it could be a page that lists the results of a search query. Of course, as the name implies, this could also be a category page, such as "science toys for 8-10-year-olds." On such pages, the usual format is to display products is in the rows and columns format. Responsive websites that are created with some kind of a fluid design will alter the number of products in each row to adapt to the size of the display.

The question I am trying to address is: how many products should you shove into the user's face at a given point of time? The answer, like most wise answers, is "it depends."

The Catalog Approach vs. the Targeted Approach

Before we narrow down upon the number of products we should expose to our viewer at one go, let's agree on some facts:

  • This is a category / collection page, we don't yet know the exact product that the visitor wants.
  • Providing many options increases the likelihood that at least one would be suitable.
  • At the same time, providing many options distracts the prospect, and even the suitable choice may not seem all that suitable.
  • If, somehow, we could deduce the "perfect" product for a customer then we could have shown them only that one and sealed the deal.

    I think you get the drift. In this age of big data, behavioral targeting, data analytics, and testing, should one not be able to divine information about the visitor and show the one, or few, product(s) that they would like to buy. Isn't there enough information stored in browser cookies to target the user effectively? That's the crux of the logic I am proposing here today.

    An Analytics-led Approach Instead of a Hit-an-Miss Approach

    By definition, a person should have one pet peeve, but when it comes to ecommerce I have a couple. One among them is that retailers are not using data as intelligently as they could. The way products are displayed to customers is akin to throwing the phone book at someone who asks you for a specific phone number. I know that's an exaggeration, but you realize how I feel.

    What I Am Suggesting Is Not Outlandish; It's the Future

    I am already working with data scientists that have created models for pre-emptive sales, i.e., where an ecommerce website knows what a customer needs even before the customer knows it. That may sound quite star-trekkish, but it need not be so. People are exposing so much about themselves online that you can create a pretty accurate profile of their habits, preferences, and consumption patterns.

    If you do not have enough data to put together that profile, rest assured that there are several numbers of data vendors that will provide it to you.

    Conclusion

    We may not be there yet, but the day is not far when customers will expect you to understand them better. I look forward to the day when the retailer asks the visitor, "How may I help you?" and the customer responds, "I don't know, you tell me."