What’s a mega-menu and what’s the point?

We’ve just implemented a ‘mega-menu’ for our rising-star ecommerce client Evolution Organics.

Like any significant development this one has taken time to plan and time to get the detail right.

Mega-menu?

To see mega-menus in action check out almost any big retail ecommerce website. For example John Lewis, Debenhams, or Heals, a personal favourite of mine Sportfish, or any other big retail brand you care to think of.

What all these sites have in common is a menu that opens up from a horisontal – normally – bar near the top of the site.

If you’re responsible for a retail products website here are a couple of good reasons to consider mega-menus:

Reason 1: mega-menus provide a great way to display lots of product categories

Conventionally, you’d expect to see a product navigation down the left-hand side or along the top of a website. Amazon, one of the best known sites in the world, still runs a left-hand menu. However the nav is small: just 11 items:

Looking at the size of the search box on Amazon I figure that many people find their product there by searching, rather than navigating through the menu. I know I nearly always use site-search on Amazon.

Websites that can’t rely on site-search may find that, as their product range grows, a left-hand navigation becomes cumbersome.

Often this means that categories and products become hidden the fold. This is the case on Evolution Organics where on product category pages, we’re still – as of July 2012 – running a left-hand nav.

Click on the ‘Shop by brand’ button and you get this:

So all brands from H to Z, and lots of other goodies, are tucked below the fold. Compare that to how the mega-menu now works:

Reason 2: mega-menus are familiar

Familiar is a good thing online. People don’t like having to work to find their stuff. If you want to read more on that check out Steve Krug’s brilliant book ‘Don’t make me think.’

There’s so much choice and it’s so easy to search for alternatives from the comfort of your own sofa, you’d better make your site as easy to use as possible or the fickle customer will be off somewhere else.

If people are becoming used to mega-menus, and the format is providing a convenient easy way for them to find stuff, it’s worth getting with the programme unless you have a very good reason not to.

OK, those are arguments in favour of mega-menus. What are the arguments against? Comments below, please.

2 thoughts on “What’s a mega-menu and what’s the point?”

  1. John Maughan24th October 2012 at 2:59 pm reply

    Interesting indeed, Ned. Nice overview. How they are programmed is critical to their usability. If they flicker on and off as you mouse over them, ugh!!
    Another topic of interest perhaps: how to display disclosure messages about cookies following the recent EU legislation changes. Partly legal, partly usability and one that we are working on at Plan.
    Warm greetings to all Cicada folk.

    1. Ned Wells24th October 2012 at 3:52 pm reply

      Thank you, John. Yes the debate around disclosure messages is an interesting one. Some good examples here: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/10657-63-of-top-uk-websites-have-taken-action-on-cookie-compliance

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