The writings of Peter Stuifzand

Archive for October 2010

Dividing a product list into multiple numbered pages provides no extra functionality to customers. It in fact hinders the customers to find the product they want.

The easy way out

From a customer, webshop (and database) point of view, the natural way to show products is by not dividing the products at all. Just show all products on one page.

However at one point, there will be to many products in a list. The list will contain many products and the webshop software doesn't allow better ways to divide the products. The easy way to solve this problem is by creating multiple pages all with some of the products.

What can we do to improve this?

The problem

When we divide a product list into multiple numbered pages, we don't add any new information with which a customer can find the 'hidden' products. A number doesn't add anymore information for the customers, there is no way he can know what products are on page 3 or 5. This problem occurs because the ordering and partitioning is arbitrary and not dependent on the products on the pages.

Sort the products

To make the order of the products less arbitrary, we can add ways of sorting the products. Each attribute of a product is potentially a way to sort the list of products. Not all attributes are as useful for sorting. Sorting the products on the description is not really useful.

Sorting on price assists customers in finding the products with the lowest or highest price easily; these products are respectively the first and the last when sorted from lowest to highest.

Sorting on price can also hinder the customer to find the product, when there are different types of products in different price ranges. Think for example of an electronics product with accessories. The product itself has a relatively high price. The accessories have a low prices. To find the product we first search for the name or type of the product. This creates a list of the products, as well as, the accessories. When we sort the products on price from low to high, we'll see the pages with the accessories first, because these have the lowest price. The last page will contain the most expensive version of the product. This means that the product we want is somewhere hidden in the middle. And this brings us to the beginning again; the numbered pages don't provide information about the products in the middle.

Group the products

The other way to increase the information is by creating groups of products. You could for example create a selection of products called accessories. Every product from the webshop that is an accessory for another product should be but into this selection. The same thing could be done for cables or chargers. When a customer now gets to the music player products in your webshop, he'll be able to select accessories, cables, or chargers and he'll only see products that are included in music players and chargers, which are the chargers for music players.

Another way to create groups is based on the price of the products. Every product in the selection has a price and some price are close together and some are not. Finding a algorithm for dividing the products in useful price ranges is left as an exercise for the reader.


Showing lists of products in numbered pages is an easy way to make your webshop more opaque. Sorting and grouping your products helps your customer find the product he's looking for.


A UNIX wizard hears cries of torment from his apprentice's computer room where the apprentice is studying, and goes to investigate.

He finds the apprentice in obvious distress, nearly on the verge of tears. "What's the problem?" he asks. "Why did you cry out?"

"It's terrible using this system. I must use four editors each day to get my studies done, because not one of them does everything."

The wizard nods sagely, and asks, "And what would you propose that will solve this obvious dilemma?"

The student thinks carefully for several minutes, and his face then lights up in delight. Excitedly, he says, "Well, it's obvious. I will write the best editor ever. It will do everything that the existing four editors do, but do their jobs better, and faster. And because of my new editor, the world will be a better place."

The wizard quickly raises his hand and smacks the apprentice on the side of his head. The wizard is old and frail, and the apprentice isn't physically hurt, but is shocked by what has happened. He turns his head to face the wizard. "What have I done wrong?" he asks.

"Fool!" says the wizard. "Do you think I want to learn yet another editor?"

Immediately, the apprentice is enlightened.

Now, replace every occurrence of editor with communication medium. Each new communication medium will increase the number of ways people are able to contact you. Each one is one more way people have to interrupt you.