User Experience

The Shopping Experience: Needs Breadcrumbs

Christian Book Distributors (CBD) and its website,, has become largest catalog and online seller of Christian books and products in the world. Two teenaged brothers, Ray and Steve Hendrickson, founded it in 1978, in Massachusetts.

The brothers launched the company, according to its website, around three basic ideas that all had to do with value. First, the company wanted to sell Christian products that it believed would have value in people’s lives. Second, it wanted to sell those products at a discount, providing economic value. And third, CBD wanted to provide excellent customer service, which it deemed would be a value to its customers.

With such clear values, I suspected that my shopping experience at would be a good one, but when I got on site all I could think about were breadcrumbs.

Perhaps a little background will help. Each month, Practical eCommerce sends me shopping. I make a purchase from a real online merchant and then report back to you about my shopping experience. The goal is to provide you with a customer’s perspective of the featured merchant in particular and online retailing practices in general. In the end, this feature, “The Shopping Experience,” should give you insights that you can use to improve your ecommerce business.

Breadcrumbs and Other Site Navigation

Within seconds of visiting, I was thinking of breadcrumbs, or, rather, the lack of them. Breadcrumbs, for the unfamiliar, are a form of website navigation that track a site visitor’s position in the site hierarchy. For example, if I am on a shirt landing page in the men’s clothing section of an online store, the breadcrumb navigation might look like, Home > Men’s Clothing > Shirts where each label is a link.

The CBD website is equipped with all kinds of navigation, some of it layered and faceted, which I like. But I found myself lost and confused for want of a breadcrumb. I had decided to look at tee shirts and somehow navigated to a page with a few, but I did not remember how I had gotten to the page and suspected that it didn’t represent all of the site’s tee shirt offerings (there are more than 200,000 total products offered on the site). Without the breadcrumb to show me where I was, it was hard to know where to go. If I had not been determined to make a purchase, I might have abandoned the site. I started to think that I should review I different site, just because there wasn’t a breadcrumb.

I have to admit that I had not realized how heavily I depended on breadcrumb navigation, but to be sure I surfed over to some of my favorite online merchants only to discover that I used the breadcrumb extensively.

I think the lesson here is that online merchants need to provide several kinds of standard website navigation, not the least of which is a breadcrumb.

Generally A Very Good Shopping Experience

Other than my issues with the lack of breadcrumb navigation, CBD offered a very good shopping experience, so I don’t want to be too hard on that company. The site was attractive. It had an excellent selection of products. The checkout process was too long, but it was clear. And the merchandise and shipping was as promised.

Summing Up

For me, the simple lack of breadcrumb navigation overshadowed an otherwise very good shopping experience, showing me just how important the little details can be.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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