We have an already very complex form that represents a contract between a dealer and multiple retailers. Until now, choosing the Retailers was done using a multiselect dropdown with a search textbox to filter results.

The problem is that the list of retailers has grown by A LOT and now there are way too many options to populate the dropdown list. The list takes way to long to build, both on the server and the client side.

I thought of a combobox that only populates it's list after the user types something in the box, firing an AJAX call to the server to retrieve retailers based on the entered terms (just like when you enter tags for your questions here in stack exchange). This would solve all problems but one: the user will have to make one search for each retailer he wants to select and, depending on the quantity, it can become a nightmare.

I don't know if helps but it's an ASP.NET MVC5 web project and we have Telerik's UI Tools for MVC at our disposal.

  • 1
    When you say "one search for each retailer ... can become a nightmare" do you mean a nightmare for the user or from a technical perspective? It sounds like a reasonable solution on the face of it.
    – Matt Obee
    Sep 3, 2014 at 16:27
  • @MattObee Yes, for the user. Imagine adding 50 retailers to a contract. Sure some may have something in common in their names, but most won't. Sep 3, 2014 at 17:52
  • 1
    Checkout my answer here at ux.stackexchange.com/questions/63752/usability-of-search-form/…. Not directly helpful but it rather gives you way to add filters (instead of user remembering to type something) Sep 3, 2014 at 22:20

3 Answers 3


We solved the issue by combining two components.

The original idea of a combobox that only populates after the user inputs some text into it was kept and after the user selects a Retailer, it is added to a grid that holds all participating retailers. users can also click on grid entries to remove them from the contract. Something like this:

The grid virtualizes the remote data so retailers are retrieved from the server as the users scrolls the grid. That provided a great boost to page loading times.

I'll keep the question open for a couple more days so I can receive input on this solution or maybe better solutions.


How does the dealer select from / chose among the retailers? Do all dealers interact with all retailers? If not the list can be pruned per dealer. (The full list can still be made available).

How are your dealers working through this problem? What is their conceptional map? Do they think "Sears" and go to "S." Do they think of retailers for a particular area? "We need to find a retailer in the Portland, Oregon area?

Answering these questions will help you arrive at the best answer(s) to the problem.

  • Any given dealer will only be able to select retailers within their own state/province and those retailers must not participate in another contract. This filtering is already applied and still there will be some stituations where almost half a million retailers will be eligible. We cannot group retailers by city or district, dealers will find them by the company name/trading name. Sep 3, 2014 at 17:50
  • If the dealers think in terms of company name/ trading name. For example if the dealer is looking for the company "Rag and Bone" and doesn't conceive of the search as clothing > denim but instead "R" then an alphabetical presentation would work very well. Sometimes the tried and true work wonders. I would start with that and then see if you can find other models to work with as well.
    – Mayo
    Sep 3, 2014 at 17:57
  • You mean a dropdown containing all eligible retailers? That's how it is now and that's not working because there are too many eligible retailers and so it takes too long to fill the list. Sep 3, 2014 at 20:04
  • No. I wasn't thinking about a drop-down. Drop-downs aren't good (UX-wise) once you get past a small amount (think about how obnoxious it is using a drop-down of countries (and that's only about 200 entries) and once you get past a few hundred and into the 1000s there is a huge performance hit. No, I was thinking about a navigation scheme which did not use drop-downs.
    – Mayo
    Sep 3, 2014 at 20:15

Our development team uses chosen: http://harvesthq.github.io/chosen/

It looks like this:

chosen example

I'm sure you can tailor it so it only drops down with predictive search after 3-5 characters.

  • Yes, I mentioned something in this lines in my question, but it can be a bad user experience if one have to insert over twenty entries or more. Sep 3, 2014 at 17:57

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