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The Top 2 Ways To Organize An Auto Parts eCommerce Site

So you’re building an auto parts eCommerce site. That’s a great choice! The market for automotive parts is booming.

And one of the most important things to do – besides choosing an eCommerce platform – is to think about how you’ll organize your auto parts eCommerce store. What are your options? Primarily, there are two ways to organize auto parts on your website.

  • Category-based navigation – You’re probably already familiar with this. In this method of navigation, customers find parts by navigating categories, then narrowing their choices down by going through other subcategories. For example, Toyota > Corolla > Brakes > Brake Pads. Toyota is the main category, and the following subcategories help customers find the parts they need.
  • Year/make/model + category-based navigation – This type of navigation also uses categories. But the first step is for customers to enter the year, make, and model of their car. Then, once they do so, they’ll be shown categories, like Brakes, Engine, Accessories, and so on – with any irrelevant parts or accessories filtered out of their results.

So, why choose one over the other? Let’s take a deeper look at each method of navigation and its pros and cons now, and discuss when each one may be a good choice for an eCommerce auto parts site.

The Basics Of Category-Based Navigation

As we already mentioned, category-based navigation uses categories and subcategories to organize the items sold in your auto parts store. This is how pretty much every eCommerce website works. Here’s an example of category-based navigation from

category based navigation
category based navigation

In this example, the top category is Toyota. Then, you choose the year (1994), and model (Corolla) of the car. Then, the engine size (1.6L L4). After that, you can choose from a ton of subcategories like:

  • Transmission
  • Brakes
  • Accessories
  • Belt Drive 

And more. In this example, we’ve chosen “Transmission-Manual,” then “Flywheel” and we can see a bunch of parts for this specific vehicle, as seen below.

auto parts subcategory
subcategory options

In this example from RockAuto, the top category is Toyota, a car manufacturer. But, depending on what you sell, this could be anything. It could be a model year. 

For example, if you sell parts for muscle cars, you could have the top categories be Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, or Chevy Camaro Then, you could break things down further by generation for subcategories, with a layout such as Ford Mustang > 5th Generation (2015-present) using the above example. 

Or, if you sell off-roading parts and accessories for Jeeps, you could have completely different top-level categories, like Jeep Parts, Bike Accessories, Towing Hitches, Off-Road Lighting, and so on. It really depends on what you have to offer.

The Pros Of Category-Based Navigation

So, why choose purely category-based navigation? That’s a good question. There are a few important pros to consider.

  • Ease of use – If you’ve ever shopped for anything online, you know exactly how category-based navigation works. You probably don’t even think about it as you shop. When it comes to overall ease of use, it’s hard to beat it.
  • No need to input car information – This eliminates another step that may cause a customer to lose focus and leave your website without buying an item. They don’t have to mess around and enter their car’s details – they can start shopping immediately.
  • All eCommerce platforms can handle it – Related to our first point, all eCommerce platforms support branching categories and subcategories. There’s no need to build any custom functionality at all, which means lower development times and costs for your auto parts eCommerce store.

The Cons Of Category-Based Navigation

Wondering why you shouldn’t opt for pure category-based navigation? Here are some drawbacks of opting for this navigation method.

  • Some items may be harder to organize – For example, does an oil filter belong in the “Engine” or “Filters” category? Both? Should you put a luggage rack in the “Accessories” or “Rooftop Storage” menu? It can be difficult to know what nomenclature to use – and since customers can’t narrow down their results by make/year/model, proper organization becomes much more important.
  • Difficult to navigate with lots of SKUs – The more SKUs you have, the harder it gets to organize your stock using categories alone. Customers don’t want to look through pages of results to find what they need – so it’s not exactly ideal to have hundreds of results if they click the “Clutch” category. Further refinement options can make the website easier to use.
  • Limits potential for expansion – Because of the number of SKUs you have to manage, it’s harder to expand your auto parts eCommerce store quickly. For example, if you start out selling parts for Jeeps but then add truck parts for the Ford F-150, you’ll have to manually add dozens – if not hundreds – of categories and subcategories. That’s a lot of work.

When Should I Use Category-Based Navigation?

There are two situations in which you may want to consider using category-based navigation.

  • New websites with limited SKUs – If you are just starting out as an auto parts eCommerce entrepreneur, it may be worth accepting the drawbacks of category-based navigation. As mentioned – and as we’ll discuss more in the next section – it’s a lot cheaper to use this method of navigation.

  • And, as a new entrepreneur, your site probably doesn’t have a huge amount of SKUs to sell, so it may make sense to go this route. You also aren’t stuck with category-based navigation forever. As your website grows and you need to scale it upward, you can always revamp it and update it accordingly.
  • Specialist auto parts websites – Let’s say you want to build a website that is specifically selling parts for air-cooled VW Beetles. In this scenario, it may make sense to avoid year/make/model navigation. If you’re focusing on a specific type of car or a manufacturer, you won’t have nearly as many SKUs to organize – and it may be easier to use a purely category-based navigation system. 

The Basics of Year/Make/Model + Category-Based Navigation

In year/make/model + category-based navigation, customers start by entering the information about their cars. Then, they can browse categories and find the relevant results that fit their vehicles. Here’s an example from AutoZone.

YMM + Category Based Navigation

In year/make/model + category-based navigation, customers start by entering the information about their cars. Then, they can browse categories and find the relevant results that fit their vehicles. Here’s an example from AutoZone.

YMM and Category based navigation
only components that fit your car will be shown

Once you’ve entered the information about your car, all the other parts and accessories on the website will also be filtered accordingly – only components that fit your car will be shown.

This has an obvious benefit. As you can see from the above screenshots, there were 207 available battery SKUs before we entered the information about our car. However, once we have selected our vehicle we see only 10 results – these are the batteries that will be the best fit for a 2015 Toyota Corolla. Let’s explore the benefits and drawbacks of this navigation method in further detail.

The Pros Of Year/Make/Model + Category-Based Navigation

Why bother adding a year/make/model filter? Let’s explore the biggest advantages of choosing this navigation method for your auto parts eCommerce site.

  • It’s easy to manage a huge number of SKUs – Even if you have thousands of SKUs on your website, your customers don’t need to see all of them. They will only ever see the parts that will fit on their vehicle. This means that they’ll be able to find what they need more easily, and they won’t get overwhelmed or frustrated by a long list of auto parts that may not even fit their vehicle properly.
  • Makes categorization faster and easier – Overall, there’s less guesswork when it comes to product categorization and nomenclature. Since all of the products for one type of vehicle will be automatically categorized together, you can actually create even more granular categories and subcategories – while still maintaining usability.
  • Eliminates confusion and ensures customer satisfaction – Beyond simply making navigation easier, using a year/make/model filter also helps eliminate confusion about what parts to buy, and ensures customers get the right parts and are satisfied with their purchases. Because they will be able to choose the exact year, make, and model of their car and get results that fit their vehicle, they’ll be less likely to buy the wrong part – enhancing the overall shopping experience.

The Cons Of Year/Make/Model + Category-Based Navigation

So, why would it be a bad idea to use year/make/model + category-based navigation? While it certainly has its perks, it has some challenges, too. 

  • No native support in most eCommerce platforms – This is the biggest drawback of opting to add year/make/model support. Most eCommerce platforms like Shopify, Adobe Commerce (Magento) and BigCommerce don’t have native support for this feature – after all, they’re not purpose-built auto parts eCommerce platforms.

    This means that, unless you have the necessary technical skills, you’ll need to hire a developer or a team of developers to create this custom functionality. In all likelihood, you’ll also need them to help you maintain it in the future, too. This can add significant costs to your project. While the investment is worth it, it may be out of your budget if you’re a new entrepreneur. 
  • Website performance can suffer – Due to the added complexity of filtering and searching based on year/make/model, you may find that your website slows down somewhat. This can usually be alleviated with proper design and good eCommerce hosting, but is still something to consider when choosing the right organization method for your auto parts eCommerce site.
  • Data management can be complex – For example, rather than just adding a new type of oil filter to the “Oil Filter” category, you will have to cross-reference the oil filter, and check all of the different year/make/model combinations with which the oil filter is compatible. Failing to manage fitment data properly means some items may not appear properly – or at all – when customers search for their vehicle. This leads to frustration and lost sales.

When Should I Use ​​Year/Make/Model + Category-Based Navigation?

Generally speaking, year/make/model + category-based navigation is the best choice for any auto parts eCommerce website that has a large number of SKUs, or will have a large number of SKUs in the future.

For example, if you plan on selling parts for Ford, Chevy, GM, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai cars, and you have more than 3,000 SKUs that will be sold on your website, it’s probably a good idea to invest in year/make/model navigation.

Know What’s Right For You – And Make The Right Choice!

We hope this guide has helped you learn a bit more about the pros and cons of the 2 major methods of auto parts eCommerce site organization. Now that you know the basics of each organization method, you’ll be able to choose the one that’s right for your store.

Need help? 121eCommerce is just a call away. We’re experts in eCommerce auto parts stores and with our development expertise, you’ll be able to build a fast, responsive, and intuitively-organized store that will maximize your sales. Contact us now to schedule a meeting with one of our team members today.