Mobile shopping - Discovery through Categories and Search


alt

How big is the screen of your smartphone? a popular question indeed. Mobile phone manufactures are building devices with all sorts of screen sizes, but no matter how large or small the screen size is, it is still a mobile screen. You can only view, absorb and appreciate limited amount of information at one time. Many popular apps struggle with finding out what is the right amount of the information for the mobile screen and how should it be organised. Product designers face this issue in E-commerce all the time. Let's look at the some of the popular Indian e-commerce apps, and see how well they are coping up with this dilemma. For the purpose of this brief lookup I will be taking look at Flipkart and Snapdeal iPhone apps.

If you use each of these apps, you might make an error of not differentiating between them after some time, because to many of us these all look just the same. Categories are organized in the Vertical - Horizontal flow - the parent category/sections are layed out vertically, whereas the sub sections are present in the form of a Horizontal scroll. Nevertheless, these two apps in the discussion are still quite different in managing the categories.

Flipkart

alt

Flipkart app has a radical home screen these days - two big icons on the top. The category icon on the top left makes two statements

  • Gateway to categories
  • Creates awareness about the category icon

The hypothesis is once the user knows that this icon symbolises categories he will also know that the top left "3-stripe" icon (Hamburger) will open up categories as well. If this indeed was the idea, then it looks like a clever one, but a small animation here will make things even more intuitive - when user scrolls below, the category icon can jump up and merge into the hamburger icon. It might make things more intuitive for the below average user. Also, I believe it is high time for the design community to come up with interesting and more logical icon for "categories".

Interestingly, there is no category option on the global bottom bar. Instead we have a secondary Search icon on the bottom bar. Do people search a lot more than they view categories? To answer this, discovery could be divided into customer segments in this case-

  • People looking for choices
  • People looking to buy product

Folks in the first category are not going to be the immediate buyers, and these are the people who will use the category option to discover products. On the other hand users in the second category are driven by the goal of getting to the product they have in mind. They are more clear about what they want, and perhaps will use the Search option much more often. This seems like a reasonable hypothesis, and if it is so, Flipkart's idea of having two Search call to action items on the main screen makes a lot of sense.

alt

Category light-box/overlay - this is where I think Flipkart may not have done a great job. I think category deserves a separate screen - images draw a such a strong emotion during the casual act of browsing through categories, that with this boring list of text items, there is a big danger of making shopping look uninspiring. Shoppers discovering categories tend to look for aspirational match; something that connects with them and makes them feel like that they want this product. Flipkart's category list doesn't seem to be doing a lot of justice to this section of users. I am sure Flipkart has a very good reason for limiting the category section to a ordinary overlay, but it just doesn't feel right!

Search the way you want to - you can search by typing the text or by clicking/choosing a photograph. Let's type in, and you are directed to this screen-

alt

For a moment, I thought something has gone wrong here. Why? I expected the keyboard to open up immediately and expected the cursor to be inside the edit box. Almost every popular app that you'd have used by now would work on the same principle - open the keyboard immediately, but not this time. Extremely surprising indeed! Another thing that is even more surprising is if you do not have a Search History, your screen is empty. Of course, it may not matter to the end user that much, but it looks like a lost opportunity.

alt

Nevertheless, the Search results page is impressive, the search string gets broken into multiple tags making things pretty simple. The fact that you can view the search results in multiple views adds value to users. What is most interesting here is the way flipkart helps you narrow down search by combining the categorisation with Search -

alt

The moment you remove "Green" from your search string, the app helps you with further categorisation by picking up sub categories, no matter how simple it may sound, it is a very noble solution of finding the right product. Not only this helps in zeroing down onto the product, but also helps in understanding how strongly a user would prefer a football shoe over any other type - good to know.

Amid all the great product thinking that Flipkart has brought into its app, one thing that might hit your hard is the "color" choices for the "color categories". Why would you want someone to read Green in an orange box? hard to find an explanation here.

alt

Snapdeal

alt

Snapdeal follows a more standard path on its first time home page, as you'd expect you have a banner section at the top followed by vertical-horizontal top- down category sections followed by a global bottom bar.

Being standard has its own advantage, and Snapdeal seems to be following the theme of standardisation. The bottom bar icons are accompanied by labels, the argument that everyone understands icons is sometimes a bit flawed. In my opinion an e-commerce interface should be as intuitive to a 45+ non tech savvy customer as it should be to an 18 year old urban user. For instance, if we talk about icon actions, then we can broadly divide icons into two categories-

  • Short lived action icons - these are used for actions that get done just by pressing the icons - clicking the thumb (like) icon on facebook, clicking the arrow icon for sending emails.

  • User flow action icons - use of these icons is to direct users to certain flow - icon to write a note/email, icons for search.

Though there is no hard boundary between these two sets and you can easily use the same icon for different purpose, the problem is when you don't explain the contextual difference enough. You can use a Heart icon with out a label to shortlist products, but will you use it to represent the shortlisted category on your home page? I believe these two are different contexts and providing a label along with the icons helps in the latter case.

Snapdeal's bottom bar very well explains its icons by providing labels for each of the actions - Home, Categories, Offers, Shortlist, Account. Speaking of the shortlist action button, I would have to say an average user is more comfortable with "Shortlist" instead of "Wishlist". Just to extend this conversation a little more on how Snapdeal is doing the basics things better here, lets look at the Shortlist(Snapdeal)/Whishlist(Flipkart) screen with zero items selected-

alt

alt

Snapdeal is on the left, Flipkart on right

You would know by now whether you want to "Start Shopping" or "Continue Shopping"! Coming back the discussion of categories, it would be obvious from the first look that Snapdeal has spent more time thinking about the experience of browsing through categories - there is a separate screen with images and a clear representation of what to expect -

alt

The experience is visually better and organised

Search is an important piece, and Snapdeal understand it and has placed it on the top of the home screen filling it with its tagline "Find your dil ki deal!". To be true, it feels little un-needed here, "Search for products, brand & deals" will be more simple and straightforward communication in this case. With Search, there is nothing much to differentiate between the two apps except that Flipkart chose to fit in explicit Filter and Sort options on the top.

alt

alt

Search - nothing much to choose between the two apps


Though, Flipkart is doing some great stuff with image search and in-app social pin and feels more advanced out of the two, Snapdeal app has been doing the basic things better when it comes to Category discovery and Search.

Let me know what do you think about your Flipkart/Snapdeal app experience.