Faceted search has long been the preferred tool used by online retailers to assist shoppers in their quest of finding the right product. Guided Selling, in the form of digital product advisors, product selectors or wizards, is challenging faceted search approaches. It aims to provide more intuitive product search and discovery experiences.

According to Baymard Institute, only 16% of top US e-commerce websites offer a satisfying filtering experience. The co-founder of Baymard Institute Christian Holst explains that the major problem is that filtering logic and design just don’t align with the customers expectations. It is clear, there is a need for solutions that are much more customer-oriented.


We’ve compared the two approaches across major areas of the eCommerce customer experience:

1. Focus: Attributes vs Needs

Faceted Search

Faceted search is geared towards domain experts. It assumes that users are familiar with product features and know exactly which filters to apply to drill down large product lists to a few desired products.

Faceted search drone example

For an expert customer, Faceted search is helpful in narrowing down the right option.

For example, provided that a customer looking to buy a drone knows exactly what type and features are needed, he or she would be able to easily narrow down a huge selection to the ideal product.

Guided Selling

Novices or unsure customers don’t always know which product features would be ideal for them. Using filters in these situations, leaves the possibility of confusion and mismatched results, making for an unsatisfying shopping experience.

Digital product advisors approach the choosing process from a consumer’s perspective. They ask a few questions to understand shopper needs, intent and expectations before suggesting suitable products. The needs-to-feature mapping is done by algorithms in the background sparing the user from the hassle of having to research what certain product features actually mean and could do for them.

Conrad, one of the largest German electronics retailers, uses a drone advisor to help shoppers find the suitable drone. It asks several questions like “How will you use your drone” to understand the shopper’s needs and expectations. Instead of having to pick technical, often ambiguous features, users can define whether they want to use a free flying drone without camera, one that can take pictures and record videos, or one that’s good for drone racing.

This easy choosing process alleviates shoppers from having to do extensive research and quickly leads them to the best products for them.

Guided selling drone example

Conrad drone advisor (in German) helps shoppers find a suitable drone based on possible use cases.

2. Design: Complexity vs Simplification

Faceted search

faceted search complexity

The list of facets and filters can include up to 18 categories.

Many retailers present users with a long list of multiple filters. It increases complexity and can quickly make them feel overwhelmed. You want to make it easier for your shoppers to choose the right product. But if the first step toward this goal is made difficult, it can lead to a frustrating experience.

Guided Selling

Digital advisors are usually designed in a modular fashion. User’s walk through a step-by-step process, similar to a journey. Each step and each question answered gets them closer to the right product. The simplicity of this approach, from a user’s perspective, makes for a much more enjoyable experience.

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West Marine’s kayak advisor takes less than a minute to complete.



3. Flexibility: One-Size-Fits-All vs Personalization

Faceted search

Personalization allows companies to create an emotional bond with customers, which results in an increased trust and a higher conversion rate. According to Accenture, 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from a retailer that recognizes them by name, recommends options based on past purchases or knows their purchase history.

Faceted search implementations don’t allow for much personalization. Each visitor gets to see the same filters to choose from.
faceted search one size fits all

Guided Selling

A digital product advisor can dynamically adapt the question flow based on the shopper’s previous responses. More sophisticated solutions can even integrate information about past purchases and known customer preferences to personalize the experience even further.

guided selling personalized approach

Different question paths for women and men based on the user’s answer

4. Results: No Match Found vs Alternative Matches

Faceted Search

The restrictive nature of faceted search means that sometimes, facets deliver no results. There are few things more frustrating to the average customer than going all the way through the process just to find that there’s nothing available for them.

faceted seach no matches

Guided Selling

Digital advisors eliminate the “no match found” concern by offering close alternatives to a required product even when no exact match exists. These applications are able to compute close alternatives, making sure that the recommended products are still highly relevant for the customer.

guided selling offer alternatives

5. Value Communication: Features vs Benefits

Faceted Search

Faceted search doesn’t offer any means to communicate product benefits. When choosing a TV, the customer may be asked to choose between HD, 3D, and 4K without necessarily understanding their differences.

faceted search features vs. benefits

Guided Selling

Customers don’t care as much about product features as they do about benefits. Digital advisors take this into account by educating users throughout the process via contextual information texts.
guided selling benefits

The final result listing can also be used to communicate benefits of the product in a need-oriented way. Once a customer understands the specific benefits of a product’s technical features, they are also more willing to pay a higher price for a better product.

guided selling promotion


6. UX Desktop vs Omnichannel

Faceted Search

While facets may work well on desktops, most implementations aren’t mobile friendly. It’s tricky to navigate between filters and pick the right filters on a smartphone.

faceted search more desktop friendly

Guided Selling

Given their modular nature, digital product advisors are inherently mobile-friendly and provide for a consistent experience across devices. Some implementations also offer additional omnichannel capabilities which allows shoppers to switch between devices and pick up where they left off, send results by email, or share them with friends.

guided selling works across devices

In a World of Experience, Guided Selling Rules the Roost

“Great products and a great experience” is the success formula for a long-lasting customer satisfaction. While Faceted Search implementations can be useful for expert customers, Guided Selling is the missing component for a great digital experience due to its personalized, need-oriented and engaging nature.