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Looking over a few ecommerce projects, I noticed that the default sorting order for any product list ends up being the order that the products were entered into the database. This seems rather random to me.

While I tend to look at existing analytics and default the sort order to how the users most commonly sort the products, this doesn't work if the analytics aren't there for whatever reason.

Does anyone have any recommendations or data for the default sort order of products when the pre-existing analytics aren't present? Should the default sort be by database index or are there better recommendations?

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I think this would depend on how they got to the list of items. Did they provide search terms? Did they select "view all" of a given category? –  Aaron Hoffman Jun 10 '13 at 15:35
    
@AaronHoffman While context would play in to some extent, I am more concerned about the simplest context of hitting a product catalog for the first time from some menu. No "view all" selection, just "shirts" or "pants" for example. –  JamesEggers Jun 10 '13 at 15:47
    
Alphabetical seems reasonable –  Justin Meiners Jun 10 '13 at 15:56
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6 Answers

Ask this same question to the marketing people in your company.
They might have strong feelings about what to show first when the user is not forcing a particular ordering.
Think of the entries in Google's search pages: move up the more rewarding.
This might require the implementation of a policy.
I did one a few years ago. The items were allotted an interest, an aging rate and an expiration date.
Applying a formula (agreed with the site owners) they were able to set an item and let it compete with the other items in the same category.
Also, it ensured that returning users after a while would see a new selection, avoiding the sensation of a stalled offerings set.

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If this isn't a brand new ecommerce site, I would fall back on sales data - either revenue or units sold (or some combination). Lacking sales data, projected sales would be a reasonable alternative.

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Can you elaborate a bit on this? –  Charles Wesley Jun 10 '13 at 18:53
    
On which part? The higher the historical or projected sales for an item, the better the chance it's relevant for a random customer so the closer it should be to the top of your results. –  dahlbyk Jun 10 '13 at 18:57
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By sorting order I assume you are referring to search results. If so, based on most e-commerce websites I've come across including Amazon and eBay, the default sorting order of a product list in the search results page is usually based on relevance or "Best Match" to the search keywords entered by the users.

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Sorting order meaning if I were to go to the top level of a product category (i.e. DVDs, Shirts, Tires, etc), the best way to sort. For search, I absolutely agree to use relevancy; however, for non-search listings is what I'm inquiring about. –  JamesEggers Jun 20 '13 at 15:09
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It depends on what are you selling and who is your target audience. Sometimes there is sense in ordering products by price

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Things seem random when one don't see any logic behind them. But sometimes one just don't understand the background.

While you as UX designer strive to bring a solid logic and clearness to goods ordering, smart marketing uses behavioral economists' and psychologists' works. They state a human is irrational and it biases his decisions. Behavioral ecomonists try to understand and predict human irrationality to have a strong influence to human behavior.

Some useful and easy-to-read sources for learning this field are:

  1. Susan M. Weinschenk's books – highly recommended readings
  2. Dan Ariely's books – a bit far from web design, but smart people could tie to UX

Some of tricks which could be used for goods ordering are:

  • place first the goods you are promoting, prices are not important
  • pair the similar goods with rather high and low prices to create contrast and lead to "mentally profitable" purchase

Athough I believe in most cases you called "random" there is just no any logic behind, i.e. "database ordering".

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This depends on audience. Sometimes it's top selling or popular or most commented. Sometimes you should add something that sells not good. It strongly depends on your customer.

Don't forget about other sorting options but show most valuable first.

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