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Taxonomy 101: What Suppliers and Retailers Need to Know

Taxonomy 101: What Suppliers and Retailers Need to Know

For a long time, the word taxonomy was limited to science departments and libraries. But today’s world of the internet and digital platforms has changed all that. Information needs to be organized for internal business purposes and for your customers, and creating a taxonomy is a useful way to do that.

We know that consumers expect quick, intuitive results when they shop online. When they type a keyword or click a link, they have high expectations for the results. However, the underlying product content needed to enable this ‘easy” experience is often very complex. A well-designed taxonomy can make it easier for consumers to find what they want and increase your shopper engagement. Taxonomy can be a critical part of an effective product content management program.

Here are some tips and insights for retailers, suppliers, and manufacturers to get the most out of their taxonomy structure.

The Challenges

Organizations struggle with all kinds of information management challenges, both internal and when communicating with customers. Many of these situations lead companies to develop a taxonomy – a hierarchical system of organizing products or information.

Has your organization faced one of these challenges?

  • Companies and their customers use different terminology. Is it a glass or a tumbler? Decongestant or cold medicine? Depends on who you ask, the context, and their level of expertise. (And sometimes, their personal preference!)
  • Some items are easy to categorize (and for consumers to find in a category), and some items blur the lines between more than one category, so they are hard to place and hard to find.
  • Retailers each have their own systems for categorization, often different from what a brand maintains internally.
  • Brands need to support multiple information frameworks for each product.

Companies often focus on strategies like search engine optimization and website redesign to help consumers find and buy products, but a solid taxonomy foundation makes those other strategies more effective.

How Taxonomy Can Help

No matter what kind of information you want to organize, building a taxonomy that meets the requirements for brands, retailers and consumers is helpful, but it can be complicated.

A good taxonomy strategy understands that people use different terms, and need different information to make a purchase decision, and it takes all those needs into account. Effective product content taxonomies help in three ways:

  1. 1. They provide a consumer-focused way to find products.
  2. 2. They provide multiple information facets that consumers can use to search.
  3. 3. They are flexible to meet the multiple requirements for different platforms where content is presented.
What You Can Do

1. Organize from your shopper’s point of view

When it comes to the way consumers navigate your website or other eCommerce experiences, take a look through the eyes of the shopper. Ideally, efforts should include customer research* to understand their terminology, and their habits in searching and browsing. Apply this research to the categories – the taxonomy – that you create for your shoppers.

Here are some dos (and one don’t) for creating an effective taxonomy:

  • • DO include customers in the process. For customer-facing categories, you have to include customers in your taxonomy creation process. Using surveys or interviews, ask customers what labels and categories make sense to them when they shop online. It doesn’t take thousands of people, but by asking few customers, you can get actionable intelligence around key terms. Even 5-10 carefully selected customers can give you a good, external perspective on your ideas.
  • • DO use familiar keywords that make it easy to click. It’s tempting to create brand-driven, clever or unique names for products or categories. But when it comes to consumer behavior, and eCommerce in particular, people are looking for recognizable keywords. They need to see the concept or category name and understand it immediately. If your product has different descriptive names (like a brush and a sweeper) or is relevant to different categories (like a household cleaning product and an automotive cleaning product), include those synonyms in descriptions, too.
  • • DO put a high value on the information people need to shop and buy. What really matters is that the consumer can find, compare, and buy the product they need. Today, that means product content has to be designed to work smoothly with search engines, websites, apps, voice search, chatbots and whatever comes next…the list of technological innovation related to commerce is long. Once you’ve categorized a product, make sure you collect the attributes, or the facets of data that someone needs to know to make a buying decision, such as size, weight, or whether batteries are included/required.
  • • DON’T make it too complicated. Remember that your customers may be searching for products in many circumstances, including while they’re in the middle of three other things, on their phone.

2. Have trustworthy and transparent product information available

Once you have products divided into categories that make sense to consumers, with keywords that are clear and easy to navigate, the next step is to move them to purchase. While categorization ensures people can find your products, product detail helps close the sale.

Consumers want to feel like they are making an informed choice. For each category of product in your taxonomy, consumers are likely to have several questions:

  • • Is this the product I think it is? Clear, recognizable images matter. Recognizable product names matter. Identify the manufacturer or brand clearly. Provide descriptions that explain the use of the product and unique benefits.
  • • Is this the right size? Weight? Format? Version? Color? These kinds of product details vary significantly by product category, but they’re all important. Some products may have several dozen important attributes, and some may have only a few.
  • • Can I compare this product against other products easily to determine the right one/best value/other options? If you have structured the attributes of your product well and communicated that value, then the retailer (either your site or your partner’s) can display product attributes in a chart or other comparison tool to make shopping and selection simple for the customer.
  • • Do I trust this seller? The cues here are subtle and may appear insignificant on their own, but typos, missing images, and incomplete data add up quickly to make you look untrustworthy.

3. Ensure flexibility for retail platforms

Most brands and suppliers don’t sell only on their own website, but also through online retailers and marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart or other major retailers. Each of these platforms organizes their products and content differently in order to differentiate themselves. Therefore, they each have a different set of information requirements for a supplier.

That means that any supplier selling a product beyond their own site has to be able to organize and share their product content not just for the consumer, but in the many different ways the retailer requires. How is it possible to keep up with all of those requirements?

Suppliers and retailers both have a vested interested in helping shoppers find and buy the products they need. It’s critical for companies to understand the terms their customers use, and the ways that customers expect to find products.

A taxonomy is a hierarchical system of categories that can help suppliers and retailers organize products and product information to make it easier for customers to find – and buy.

*Resource Recommendations: If you’re new to customer research, check out Steve Portigal’s Interviewing Users and Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research.