Infinite Scroll on Ecommerce Websites: The Pros and Cons
As mobile devices continue to influence UI patterns, it should be no surprise that more and more desktop websites are employing the use of infinite scroll on category-browse and search-result pages. Infinite scroll (sometimes referred to as continuous scroll or endless scroll) eliminates the need for pagination controls because as the user moves toward the bottom of the page, additional products dynamically load with an AJAX call. Thus making the page appear as if it has no end (see Google Images as an example).
Although this strategy works quite well on content sites and blogs, there are some pros and cons to consider when contemplating the use of infinite scroll on an ecommerce site:
- Provides a faster load time than multiple-page formats. It’s an AJAX call, so this isolates the area that needs to be refreshed; therefore, the user doesn’t have to reload all page elements – such as header and footer – to see the next batch of results.
- Gives users the option to View All results with a minimal performance hit. Users who take advantage of the option to control the number of results per page often gravitate toward whichever option reveals the most results. But ecommerce sites that have large inventories usually shy away from including a View All link to avoid affecting performance. Infinite scroll’s AJAX solution provides a nice compromise.
- Can increase exposure for buried products. Pagination for really big result sets could prevent some users from exploring beyond the first few pages. A result set that spans 100 pages, with only 30 items loading per page, is daunting. Infinite scroll may lead to greater exposure for items deeper in the result set by eliminating the psychological roadblock caused by seeing a high page count – in addition to the fact that the results load more quickly than if browsing page by page.
- Eliminates the need to break up related content across multiple pages. More and more ecommerce sites are adding articles and blogs, not only to help with SEO but also to give customers a reason to regularly return to the site. Infinite scroll is particularly useful for this text-based information because it allows the user to read continuously with limited disruption.
- Prevents the scroll bar from being used as a point of reference. The size/position of a scroll bar is often referenced as an indicator of how much farther a user needs to scroll to reach the end; however, with infinite scroll, the bar will keep jumping up and resizing as more results load.
- Hides the footer. If users often access a site’s footer navigation, then infinite scroll could be a problem. The footer cannot be reached until a user has scrolled through all the pages and loaded all the results – for very large result sets, that could take awhile.
- Hinders back-and-forth navigation between product details and results. If users click to view a product and then hit the Back button to return to their result set, they may not be deposited where they left off. If they were a few “pages” into the set, the scroll history is usually erased.
- Doesn’t provide context for location. Pagination controls – with a manageable number of results per page – give users some context for finding a previously viewed product. For example, if a result set has 20 pages, and the user knows a particular item was somewhere in the middle of that set, then the user will have a rough idea of where to begin searching for that item (pages 9, 10 or 11).
- Poses a choice paradox. Although users often indicate they want to see more options in a result set, too many options can sometimes make it more difficult to make a choice – and, of course, those choices are what lead to purchases.
There are workarounds to address some of the concerns listed above (e.g. adding a Load More button at the bottom of the page or using a sticky footer), but even those have drawbacks. The only way to determine whether infinite scroll is worth the time and effort to implement is through proper research and testing. There isn’t a universal best practice for when to use this functionality – some of the biggest retailers have tried it and failed (recently Etsy implemented it with negative impact), while others have found great success. Each site attracts a different audience with distinct needs, so it’s important to review analytics and conduct user testing to understand how your customers are using your site today and what is most important to them when shopping on your site. Although infinite scroll offers speed and convenience, perhaps you’ll find that pagination isn’t really affecting your conversion rate; therefore, making the switch to infinite scroll would prove an unnecessary expense that’s potentially jarring for your loyal customers.
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