I am working on a big eCommerce website and we are trying to find the best possible option for our layout. A typical layout that I keep seeing is something similar to Aliexpress. A left sidebar with categories and nested subcategories when you enter level two.

However, I am curious if categories hidden in the category mega menu would work in this case as well. Here is the example https://www.bol.com/nl/nl/

If you are buying online or you have worked on something similar please share some insight.

  • I wouldn't recommend soliciting design advice from just anyone who's ever shopped online ;) Joking aside however, it would help us a lot if you shared some details about your store. How many categories do you have, and how are they layered? What other kinds of catalog navigation do you offer to your users? Oct 10, 2022 at 17:55
  • Hey Ro. Of course. I am just trying to hear out every possible word at the moment. We released a couple of tests as well but until we get some results I am posting all over the web :) However. There are 22 categories at the moment, but they are not sorted in a good way. For example, there is a category for babies and then kids. Which basically is the same. The only difference is in the sizes of things which can be solved via filter not category. Many are suggesting Amazon, but Amazon for me is not such a good choice. I find it a bit difficult to use their webshop sometimes. Oct 10, 2022 at 19:04
  • Although I think it's great that your team have been testing, it sounds a little like you're basing design choices on personal opinion or anekdotal experience. This is generally not the best way to get to an optimal design. I'd recommend that you work out a detailed business case and get to know your user base intimately. This will allow you to eliminate all the guess work, and enable you to understand why certain design choices are best for you. Oct 11, 2022 at 8:57
  • I totally get you. As I said. We released a couple of tests, but until we get something back we are talking with people from the same industry :). So far users are providing nice feedback and I already see we will have a lot to do, but that is fine as long as we are going to solve the problems and provide a great path for users goals. Oct 11, 2022 at 11:19

1 Answer 1


I have worked for several online stores, according to my experience there is a very defined functionality for each product search element depending on the type of user. Mainly:

Categories: the subdivision of products into categories is essential for the seller to organize their products, but not for the customer. While the seller is very clear about where to place each item, for the user it is something totally new and implies a waste of time. In fact, you yourself confirm it in your comment: if the client is looking for something for babies, he/she will not find it in "kids" where will probably start looking.

Search engine: it's essential for the user and secondary for the seller. Going back to the example, if the client is looking for something for babies, simply placing it in the search field avoids any type of category navigation, saving time.

In my opinion, the best mass merchandisers work best with a maximized quick search field and the category navigation alternative secondarily. This favors not only the immediate search but also the best optimization of screen space for articles, information, and offers.

If I had to start a big eCommerce website project I wouldn't hesitate: a wide top horizontal search field as a starting point and a category access button. Given this layout, the best option for the categories layout is a left vertical sidebar with drop-down options.


This other example consum.com, in addition to the upper search field and the category access button, leaves the left sidebar for filters:

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  • This is epic. Thank you Danielillo. We did something similar but in our case, the "categories" button is actually always "open". We are trying to figure out at the moment how would that affect subcategories and direct URLs for categories or tags. But, I believe in a couple of days we will have answers for that as well. Oct 11, 2022 at 11:25

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