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Note: This is a follow up to a previously posted question.

I am working on re-implementing search functionality on a site for which search is quite important. There are tens of thousands of products, so faceting is a big part of how users search. There are dozens of properties that don't all apply at once. My question is regarding the best practices for showing the numbers next to facets.

In some search interfaces, you'll see a number beside the search facets:

Facets With Numbers

Amazon and others, however, no longer shows these numbers.

I'm trying to figure out the best way to handle this. On the one hand, I understand that it may be of interest to users. However, I'm having a hard time making the numbers indicate anything useful when it comes to the actual data.

Consider my example above. If the user selects "Red", I would expect the numbers in the "Color" facet to remain the same, because if I were to check one of the other options, it would add to the number of results.

But if I checked "Red", what should happen with the numbers in the "Size" facet? Should they change to reflect the number of results that also are "Red"?

I have seen both options and more, depending on the implementation. Given that there doesn't appear to be a standard, it seems to me that the numbers are pretty useless.

Do I need to show numbers beside the facet values? How can I make them meaningful?

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I think the issue here is about the underlying logic of the facets query, rather than the UI. You should think at what kind of query your users are making while checking the different options in the menu.

Filter Logic

When you use facets, you are generally implying you are using a "filter" approach: from the total amount of items, you keep the only items that match specific selected features.

So, when you select "RED", the scope of your query shrinks from the total amount of items to only red items: the number of items of different sizes should change accordingly.

If then the user selects "Small", the scope of the query is even smaller, so that it matches items that are at the same time Red AND Small.

Don't use facets for a SEARCH Query

If you always show the same number on facets, you are breaking the "filter logic". In fact, if the number of "Small" items didn't change after you selected the "Red" facet, it would imply that you are executing a "SEARCH" query, that is: search all items that are Red OR Small (including Red items, Small items and Red-Small items).

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Numbers are useful after a search because they help the user know quickly whether to expand or narrow their query. It's possible that Amazon is hiding the numbers because searches might be returning overwhelmingly large numbers. My recommendation would be to A/B test with or without numbers and see how long it takes for users to find what they were looking for. Numbers might make things go faster.

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Test a prototype

That's a very inconclusive answer, but I think it's the most honest one.

You correctly point out that this feature can go in very different directions. The right decision is the one that makes sense to your users.

If I had to guess, I'd say Amazon ditched this feature (quite some time ago) for two reasons:

  • The performance hit of calc'ing all those quantities across millions of items
  • The usability confusion of trying to get a huge range of users to process all those little tiny numbers

Example of counters in practice

Zappos is still going strong with additive facets and reactive counters. It works well for their use case.

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  • I know this is completely off the point but how did you make your gif? I am looking for an easy way to do it without using photoshop. – Lisa Tweedie Feb 15 '18 at 23:11
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    @LisaTweedie Giphy Capture: giphy.com/apps/giphycapture – plainclothes Feb 21 '18 at 21:44

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