Product Comparison Charts: An Instructive Tour

In this time of reflection, prediction, and animated GIF lists, I’m going to talk about something we have not addressed on this blog at all in the past year: product comparison charts. Last week we published an annotated example of a good comparison chart.

Comparison charts are one element of successful product-page content and are an excellent opportunity for cross promotion. A comScore study on CE shoppers found that ease of product comparison was the number one reason people gave for shopping online (versus in store). And a Razorfish study from 2007 found that 22 percent of shoppers–the second largest number–relied most on comparison charts for information.

4 Elements of Effective Product Comparison Charts

Should you use product comparison charts on your product pages? Maybe.

If you believe that shoppers will be interested in your other products, yes. If you have a line of similar products with different features, yes. If you can present helpful information more easily in a chart than in a paragraph, yes.

But if you have a line of products with the same features or a collection of products not highly related to one another, no.

So what makes a product comparison chart effective? Four main elements:

  • Number of products
  • Number of features compared
  • Layout
  • Visual design

Too many products or features, and a chart becomes a computer screen-dominating monster. Too few, and it’s pointless fluff. Around five products and four to seven features seems ideal.

A comparison chart is a simple table. There aren’t many options about where to put information, but there are some. Consider the options and decide what will be most helpful to shoppers.

Remember this should be easy to look at. That means using only a couple of colors, making associations visible, and scaling it to fit in a window without scrolling. Layout and design are what make a chart either user friendly or headache inducing.

Let’s look at some examples.

What Not To Do

I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong with this Monster comparison chart–I bet you can figure it out.

Bad product comparison chart from Samsung

That’s right, all the information is the same. What’s the point? Not to mention I chopped off the bottom of the chart for the sake of (relative) brevity.

This comparison chart from Philips has a good design, but it also tries to cover too many features and products.

Okay product comparison chart from Philips

18 product features for 11 different speaker docks. If you need to use subheaders to identity groups of features within your chart, you’ve gone too far. If shoppers can’t see the products being compared at the same time as they look at various features, a comparison chart becomes largely ineffective.

Make It a Good Comparison Tool

There are a couple main types of product comparison tools. A product comparison chart puts different products side by side, while a comparison matrix looks at the variations of one particular product, such as different sizes or feature packages. Wacom’s matrix helps shoppers determine which size pen tablet is best for them.

Good product comparison matrix from Wacom

Simple but valuable. I know I’ve abandoned a potential purchase or three because I couldn’t determine if one important feature (such as size) was what I needed it to be.

Remember what I said about visual design elements? Don’t underestimate the power of a simple line in white space.  This Belkin chart is good but not great. One of these things is not like the others (the USB charging station), and that one extra product makes the table a little too wide.

Good product comparison chart from Belkin

Consider Your Users

There’s more than one way to represent information and lead shoppers to the product best suited for their needs. This “product finder” comparison chart, also from Belkin, uses function to create main headers, rather than listing features of each product.

Product finder chart from Belkin

And here’s a different kind of comparison chart, from Graco. I didn’t like this chart at first. However, when you consider the audience (sleep deprived, distracted, impatient people with babies), Graco’s chart is an effective aid in choosing a car seat. It doesn’t overwhelm shoppers with product features and requires only that they know what size their baby is. The design is a little rough, but giving users two ways to distinguish categories–color and placement–is smart.

Good colorful product comparison chart from Graco

Comparison Chart Best Practices

There’s no one ideal product comparison chart model. What works for a company will depend on product type and consumer needs. But there are a few best practices for comparison charts. Those are:

  • Limit products compared to five.
  • Limit features compared to five or six.
  • Delineate clearly between each entry.
  • Limit word count.
  • Keep your chart small enough to fit on a laptop screen.
  • Use good design: high contrast, markers that separate different entries, spacing, and so on.

Also keep in mind that not all e-commerce platforms allow comparison charts. Make sure yours will before you invest resources in creating them.

Takeaway

Making side-by-side product comparison easy for shoppers is in retailers’ best interests. If, that is, you have similar products. If you don’t, skip the chart and work on coming up with a good Internet meme instead.