Browsing antique stores is one of our favorite pastimes, especially stores that make no effort to organize their wares, chaotic jumbles of products grouped according to whim or chance. We enjoy the prospect of serendipitous discovery. However, when we’re shopping online, a lack of organization is not enjoyable. A positive eCommerce experience depends on the thoughtful organization of products into groups that create meaningful connections between them.
WooCommerce is, at heart, an application for creating order and connectedness in large catalogs of products. WooCommerce store owners have three different organization tools at their disposal: categories, tags, and product attributes, each of which adds information to a product listing. WooCommerce’s interface uses that information to group products in the interface and to help shoppers navigate the catalog.
Categories are WooCommerce’s primary organizational tool, and the one that has the biggest impact on the user interface. Most WooCommerce themes use categories to form the main navigation menu.
Every product on a WooCommerce store must be in a category. If you don’t assign a category to a product, it will be put in the “uncategorized” category. Each product can only be in one category, and categories are hierarchical — you can create categories that contain other categories.
For example, an online pet store might put a scratching post in the “Cat Toys” category, which is itself part of the “Cats” category. WooCommerce will use that categorization to group and filter products in the interface.
Categories are created in the Products > Categories interface, and products can be added to categories via product pages.
Tags differ from categories in a couple of important ways: each product can have many tags, and tags are not hierarchical. Tags are used to group products across categories.
A store selling pop memorabilia might put a signed poster of David Bowie in the “Posters” category, but tag it with “David Bowie”, “Glam Rock”, and “English”. Shoppers can then filter for products that are related along different dimensions.
The free-form nature of tags is useful, but without careful management a store’s tags can become chaotic. It takes discipline and forethought to build a coherent system of tags that group products in meaningful ways. We have seen WooCommerce stores with dozens of tags, many near duplicates, a large number of which were only applied to one product.
It is worth taking the time to sketch out a “canonical” set of tags. The set should evolve over time, but new tags should be introduced systematically.
Product attributes contain additional information about products. Each product attribute has a predefined set of terms, which can be thought of as labels that indicate a quality of the product. A coat might have a size attribute, which has small, medium, and large terms. Product attributes are useful for variable products with multiple SKUs.
Attributes and their terms can be added to WooCommerce via the Products -> Attributes menu. Once product attributes have been added, they become available to you when adding and editing a store’s products.
The combination of categories, tags, and product attributes allows WooCommerce retailers to organize, filter, and group products so that shoppers can easily find what they are looking for.