Design Critique: Search Function

ebay header

As a frequent online shopper I find the search functions on very confusing. Like most online shoppers, I want to browse through various listings with the least amount of time and energy spent. In my recent search for a floor lamp, I visited eBay to see if I could find something that was easy to assemble, took up minimal space, provided some shelving or storage function, and could also provide decent lighting without breaking the bank. While many will say that it seems relatively straightforward search, I found myself wondering if I executed the search functions properly. Donald Norman calls this failures at the gulf of execution in the seven stages of action.

Everything starts out simply when I open eBay and land at the homepage. I see the search bar at the top and a drop down menu of various categories to search. I start by typing in “lamp” in the search box. Before I can hit the search button, eBay shows not only a menu of possible suggestions, but also yields possible results in the background. This is confusing because I haven’t finished my search query and I don’t know whether or not the results are what I want. This is poor conceptual model because I expected the search function to at least let me finish typing before returning results. (Fig. 1)

ebay fig1Fig. 1 – First search attempt

In my second attempt, I entered “floor length with shelf”. Before I can finish typing, not only has the suggestions menu brought up my search query, but the background page also refreshes simultaneously with results that show something completely different. The general assumption is that if the page refreshes, the search must have yielded something relevant. However, in this case it did not. There are results for lamp cables and LED lights which are irrelevant. (Fig. 2) While it may just seem easier to ignore the background, many new users may not realize that the background results are inaccurate. I always have to remind myself to ignore the background results as I’m typing. Norman describes this as knowledge in the head, which essentially means to remember specific knowledge that needs to be recalled.

Considering the difficulties in just executing a basic search, I wondered if it would be easier to just buy one from a physical hardware store and navigate the New York City mass transit system with a large bulky box.

ebay fig2Fig. 2 – Second search attempt

Finally, after entering my full search query and hitting the search button, and ignoring any results until the page refreshed again, I ended up with the following search results. These seemed relevant to what I was looking for, but after almost 10 minutes of trying to navigate the search functions I didn’t want to spend time filtering and sorting through results. Overall, the entire process was cumbersome and frustrating. I spent more time trying to remember and execute a proper search than actually looking at the resulting products. While the suggestions menu is helpful in entering an appropriate query or auto filling the search bar, the search function could be improved by letting the user finish typing before yielding results.