A little bit of a rant here.
I just realized, that I have switched preferred electronics retailer for a simple reason: product filtering usability.
There are basically three models that I see
1. No filtering or rudimentary filtering. You drill down through a hierarchy or you search. Think Amazon or Best Buy. As far as I'm concerned, for a complex multi-variate product like a laptop, this is useless unless you know which model you're looking for and you're just doing price comparisons.
2. Advanced filtering.You can filter on many characteristics, but you can't choose "320GB and 500GB and 1TB". Think Tigerdirect or EBay before you click the "Choose More" feature. Better, but this is still frustrating, because if you want to see all laptops with screens in a certain range and there are 5 screen sizes in that range, you need to do 5 searches. And then if you have a second variable (you'll consider hard drives with 4 different sizes), you now have to do five searches for each of those. If you have three variables (memory, for example), then you're just screwed unless you have lots of time.
3. Filtering the way it should be. You can check any number of choices for each variable. Think the EBay "Choose More" screens or Newegg. Or in the appliances market, I think Sears does it this way, whereas Home Depot or Lowes do not (if I remember right... I should check).
For me, when shopping for something complex like a laptop, I almost can't stand to shop at retailers that don't offer option #3.
I've built various types of filtering systems and it's really not that much harder to offer option #3 compared to #2. The big difference is between offering #1 and #2. Once you've created a form, though, why not make it available to users who specifically want "power search" options?
In general, with the exception of EBay, I typically find option #3 on specialty sites, but not usually on general sites. That's partly because of the problem of doing it intelligently for disparate products.
It strikes me, though, that this is one place where a specialty retailer can take advantage of their knowledge and willingness to customize their site to make it more usable to power searchers, precisely the customers who are most likely to be repeat buyers.
I would say this one, relatively simple, UI feature has cost a certain retailer, to whom I used to be fairly loyal, at least $1000 in sales since I discovered a competitor who makes it possible for me to filter the way I want. Of course I'm price sensitive, but if the prices are close, the usable site wins.
Naturally, you have to offer simple search, simple filtering or simple drilldown as the default, and offer advanced search or advanced filtering as a power user option.
Do you think it's important?
Have you noticed the different filtering options? Have you found yourself gravitating away from one retailer toward another because of this?
Am I (and others who read Usability and Accessibility forums) just plain strange in having a low annoyance threshhold?
Or are retailers who don't offer option #3 leaving a lot of money on the table as last-minute Christmas purchases put time pressure on discerning buyers?