eCommerce Taxonomy: How to Perfect Taxonomy for Online Marketplaces

Yoav Maor / May 23, 2017

Ensuring you have a comprehensive eCommerce taxonomy strategy is the foundation of any successful online retailer. In other words, how you classify and organize products so that shoppers can seamlessly find what they’re looking for can make a huge difference to your sales and bottom line. This is true both for your own web store as well as any marketplaces you might be selling on such as eBay, Walmart, or Amazon.

A clear and descriptive taxonomy will also help your search engine ranking, since it can facilitate the application of targeted PPC campaigns.

A word of advice: Don’t skimp on properly setting up your eCommerce taxonomy; it will come back to bite you in the long run.

Here are the 4 steps to building the perfect taxonomy for your eCommerce business:

eCommerce Taxonomy Tips

Tip 1: Think Logically
When we talk about taxonomy, we are referring to splitting all your products up into categories, sub-categories and even sub-sub-categories (also known by various other names). Taxonomies vary wildly according to what you’re selling and how much you’re selling, and also differ greatly from marketplace to marketplace. Think about what works best for your business and products.

You need to make your store and products easily navigable for the shopper. This requires logic. The shopper needs to be able to click on one of the main categories on your store’s central navigation page and further explore and narrow down their search to find the exact product they’re looking for.

The best way to start is to sit down and map out every single one of your products. Group them into main categories. Look at each category individually and break them down further into clear and descriptive sub-categories. Finally, break those down according to the individual attributes of the sub-category.

In the example below, you can see that someone browsing on the Shutterfly website immediately views the main categories of items for sale (in yellow).

ecommerce taxonomy exmaple

When they click the category of “Personalized Gifts”, they view the sub-categories available (in pink), such as “home accents”, “gifts for him”, and “gifts for her”. Clicking on “home accents” breaks it down even further to sub-sub-categories (in blue), such as “candles”, “ceramic tiles”, and “pillows”. Clicking on “candles” will take you to a page of only candles, and then you can filter your search according to different candle types.

Tip 2: Don’t Over or Under-Taxonomize
The secret to building eCommerce taxonomies is to keep it simple. If you sell a limited number of products, don’t feel the need to split them into a million different categories and sub-categories just for the sake of it.

Below is an example of a local health-food business eCommerce store. A shopper looking for frozen fruit doesn’t have to search far. Since frozen fruit is one of only 12 categories the store sells, it is featured in the top navigation bar of the website. Once you click on the category of “frozen fruit” you immediately see the 20 or so sub-categories of different fruits. And that’s it. This website features a taxonomy made up of only categories and sub-categories.

However, the more products you have, the more sub-categories you’ll need in order to make the central navigation less overwhelming.

On the Shoprite website, for example, shoppers who are looking for frozen fruit will have to search a tiny bit further. Shoprite sells hundreds of food products and their categories, or “departments”, reflect this. There are approximately 25 categories including one labeled as “frozen”. The “frozen” category is made up of 16 sub-categories of various frozen foods. When you click one of the 16 — “frozen fruit”, you reach a page of all the sub-sub-categories of frozen fruit that Shoprite sells, and you can further refine your search according to the multiple brands available.

Tip 3: Reevaluate as you Grow
Once a taxonomy is built does not mean all the hard work is over! Unless, of course, you have no intention of growing your online business. You may need to reevaluate your eCommerce taxonomy as you add new products to your store, or branch out into selling new categories of items. See your eCommerce taxonomy as a work in progress.

You’ll ultimately reap the benefits since your shoppers will have a great user experience and purchase more from your store.

Tip 4: Understand Category Nuances in Marketplaces
We’ve talked about this before, but it suffices to say that different marketplaces have completely different taxonomies. This means that when listing your product, you must take special care to meet marketplaces categorization requirements, and find the category (and sub-category etc.) that best suits your product.

It’s usually not a good idea to list the same product in more than one category, since some marketplaces don’t allow it, and even if they do, it can be risky, since it can cost you more in fees and can be difficult to keep track of stock levels.


If you are an online retailer today who is looking to get serious about creating a user-friendly experience, having an eCommerce taxonomy strategy is critical. Online shoppers are notoriously impatient if a website is not easily navigated for the products they want to purchase.

Investing in a comprehensive eCommerce taxonomy may take time and effort, but the rewards you will reap are invaluable for both the present and future.

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