A Redesign of REI’s Navigation System
A REI-design, if you will…
To redesign an e-commerce site (REI.com) to better satisfy user needs.
The project took 2 weeks to complete. 1 week for research and 1 week for design. I worked with my partner, David Arjun, for the first week and completed the design phase solo.
REI is a Co-op founded in 1938 by a group of 26 climbing buddies. Since then, it has grown and now has 145 stores in 35 states.
And it’s not just clothing and gear! REI also:
- Supports conservation efforts nationwide
- Organizes volunteer teams to clean beaches, make trails, etc.
- Strives to reduce it’s environmental footprint
- Fosters stewardship for the outdoors
“At REI, we inspire, educate, and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” — REI Mission
Assumptions When Entering Project:
- People of all ages and skill levels use REI for outdoor needs.
- REI is an authority on outside activities and their users trust and value REI’s recommendations and advice.
- There’s a lot of information to process when shopping at REI.
- People will shop more in-store than online.
Note: All assumptions were validated during research, however, I was unable to gather enough data to prove/disprove the fourth assumption (people shop more in-store than online).
Original Problem Statement
REI is a store with a lot to offer. It has clothes, gear, snacks, workshops, rental services, and so on.
How might we take REI’s huge inventory of offerings and present it in a way that isn’t overwhelming or inefficient for the user?
While conducting research, I worked with my colleague, David Arjun. Research began by gathering background information on REI and it’s competitors. We did comparative and competitive analyses evaluating various features amongst different e-commerce sights to see what REI was doing similarly to and differently from other companies. The goal where REI was surpassing it’s competition and where there was room for improvements. For REI, we established it’s competitors were companies such as Backcountry.com, Sierra Trading Post, Amazon.com, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and so on.
We also conducted a heuristic evaluation of REI.com and Backcountry.com. REI scored incredibly high in our evaluation, which led us to the conclusion that it is a well-designed and enjoyable site. Our work was cut out for us. How does one make a great site even greater?
After completing our initial evaluations, we conducted contextual inquiries at the REI store in SoHo, as well as competitive inquiries at Patagonia and Snow Peak. This provided a lot of useful information as to why people come to these stores and what they’re goals and reasons are for shopping there. We talked to both workers and customers and also did a few “shop-alongs” while we were there.
One of the potential issues we were noticing with the site was that its global navigation bar is very information and text heavy. Products are organized both by activity and gender and the number of sub and subsub categories is daunting. We conducted open and closed card sorts to see if there were alternative ways to categorize REI’s products or if they way REI chose was the most efficient. For the most part, we found that people organized based on activity (though some products were categorized differently to REI). One open tester, however, chose to sort based on season and/or brand.
After completing the research, we assembled the answers and collaborated to synthesize the data. The following insights were identified:
“I need help and advice when buying new things (especially if serving a niche purpose or it’s particularly expensive).”
“I like to keep up-to-date with gear and tech.”
“I never really go out of the city, but I like the brands REI stocks.”
“I believe in function over fashion.”
“While I’d like my gear to do it’s job, I’d also like to look good in it.”
“I am passionate about the outdoors.”
Personas were provided upon entering this project. However, they were several years old, so it was time to update them! Based on new user information and insights, the following personas were created:
Ted and Jeremy have been interested in the outdoors for years, but their passion has increased throughout the last 5 years. They’ve tried dozens of different outdoor activities and are usually buying new gear (after getting advice from experts). They’re very environmentally-conscious and want their friends and family to love the outdoors as much as they do.
Danielle is more of a “lifestyle” user of REI. She enjoys the outdoors, but also really appreciates the brands and fashions associated with it. She’s very into social media and staying on-trend. Ratings and reviews are helpful and interactive social media campaigns grab her attention.
Revised Problem Statement
REI provides access to a wealth of products, information, and experiences related to the outdoors.
How might we take the bevy of services that REI wants to provide and present it in a way that is concise, pleasant, and easy to navigate?
Now, this seems an awful lot like the original problem statement. And that’s because it is! Through research and synthesis, I determined that my original problem statement was valid and that, despite the fact REI is known for having so many things to offer it’s members, this perk is also a pain point to some degree, as it can be rather overwhelming.
Iterations and Usability Testing
After conducting research, I determined that a large issue I would like to address was the navigation of the site. The task flow from homepage to checkout is organized and straight-forward, however, if the user does not use the search bar, it can take some time to read through all of the navigation options. In attempts to correct this, I decided to prioritize and condense the navigation menus.
Originally, REI’s main navigation menu contains 14 categories. Each category has a list of subcategories, which has a list of sub-sub categories. That’s a lot. After combining some categories and removing redundant ones, I proceeded to list the sub-sub categories on the subcategory’s results page:
By condensing these options, the main navigation was simplified significantly. Please reference the differences in the home page site map:
High Fidelity Mockups
After completing the wireframes and doing some light testing, I developed the designs into high fidelity mockups. Below are images demonstrating the simplified navigation options after the original form.
These are comparisons of the global navigation iterations, which were condensed from 14 options (left) to 12 options, including the addition of a new feature containing New and Trending items.
This is a comparison of the subcategory organization, which was drastically condensed (below) to avoid overwhelming the user and allow for quicker processing of the information and shopping options. Some subcategories were merged, while sub-sub-categories were removed completely and are now located in the subcategory’s products pages.
During usability testing before and after the redesign, testers were asked to find and purchase a new pair of backcountry ski boots. After the redesign, the user had more pages to click through, but the speed of the task was shortened by 5–7 seconds. More effort, less time. 5 usability tests were conducted and each time, 4/5 completed the task with minimal confusion. An iteration I would like to make would be to change the size of the sub-sub category listing on the results page so that the user’s eye is drawn to it more quickly and they feel more inclined to use it.
As far as next steps are concerned, some more usability testing would be helpful to evaluate the redesign. I also think it would be valuable to re-examine how reviews and ratings are submitted for niche products. Currently, expert-level gear typically has 0–2 ratings or reviews, due to the fact that it is more exclusive. This seems unhelpful to future users of the product and might dissuade them from purchasing it. I would also like to give more online visibility to the incredible service work that REI does regarding environmental projects and campaigns.