Filtering Versus Faceting

Faceting has already rippled through eCommerce, but its full benefits are yet to be reaped.

 
The terms “filtering” and “faceting” are often thrown around when talking about the same idea, and while closely related, they differ slightly in meaning. We’ll give a quick overview of the differences between the two and why faceting matters, and then we’ll highlight a few retailers who are currently excelling in the faceting arena. Get ready for a fun ride.

Filtering and faceting are different things

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, filtering systems “analyze a given set of content to exclude items that don’t meet certain criteria,” whereas faceting “extends the idea of filters even further into a complex structure that attempts to describe all the different aspects of an object, for maximum flexibility in information retrieval.”
 
So what does that mean, exactly? Basically, faceting is a much more specific type of filtering. A concrete example helps to explain it further. Let’s say you’re searching for a pair of boots for the upcoming winter. To filter would be to select the footwear department, which would then automatically exclude any items outside of footwear. Another common filter would be to narrow it down further to gender. While useful, these filters don’t exactly bring the user very close to what he or she is looking for.
 
Much more useful would be faceting, in which the user could select several characteristics to simultaneously narrow the search to show only the exact type of items being sought — for example, brown leather boots with fur lining in size 11 for men.
 
It’s pretty self-apparent that faceting can immensely improve the user experience. But surprisingly, according to a study conducted by the Baymard Institute, only 40% of the top 50 U.S. online retailers actually utilize faceted search. As ridiculous as that number is, it represents quite an opportunity for companies to differentiate their online shopping experiences from the competition, and going forward, it’ll most likely be an expected and vital part of any user experience.
 
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s get into some examples.

Zappos

Zappos has definitely taken faceting seriously, with pretty much every product attribute that you could think of being searchable. They even have so-called “Themes” that you can use to sort shoes by season, function, etc.
 
Zappos Faceting

Newegg

Newegg has some ridiculously specific faceting, which makes sense and fits perfectly with the complexity of technology products.
 
Newegg Faceting

Airbnb

Airbnb‘s faceting is much simpler, but it blends into the user interface of the site more seamlessly and is expandable if the user needs to more deeply refine results.
 
Airbnb Faceting

Donde app

The Donde app combines mobile and faceting to create a unique shopping experience, in which the user basically describes the desired item and is then presented with a list of products that match.
 
Donde App Faceting

Michael Braun
Michael Braun
Affectionately referred to around the office as the "Silver Fox," Michael's silvery sheen reflects his UX wisdom and design knowledge. He's also a big Brewers fan. Feel free to email him with any questions related to UX design.