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How would you handle the presentation of that many categories, sub-categories, etc? I've already got taxonomy taken care of. Its just a matter of making a user friendly interface to access that taxonomy.
I believe some of the toughest stores to do (I just completed one) are "office supplies", which offer a huge number of products, categories, and subcategories.
If you look at the major sites like Staples, OfficeMax etcetera, there really isn't a lot of flexibility for navigation...it almost has to be a "directory" presentation. This makes sense since in any store you have to "categorize" product listings vs directory listings.
Just make sure the search is accurate and will pick up "item#/SKU#" for those repeat visitors.
It almost has to be a "directory" presentation.
Our front end uses a directory style presentation, we realized that would be the best solution for a broad range of categories and sub-categories.
I forgot to mention that I'm coming at this from the Administrative side. I want to make this user friendly for the Administrators.
Now that I think about this, why don't I just do the same thing on the back end? Use the same directory structure that we are presenting to the user? That makes sense to me. That's what I get for trying to "overthink" the process. ;)
I'd like to see if others have come up with any alternative solutions. I'm finding myself attracted to Ajax based on what my developers are showing me. We can easily and quickly provide Ajax based menus but I have some additional concerns there.
This is very difficult to do correctly, and the best advice I can give is to think VERY, VERY CAREFULLY about the organization. Once you start setting up an organization and imposing a structure, it will "stick," and be difficult to change in the future. However, if the organization is designed for 500+ categories, and you aren't going to reach that point for a year or two, then it may be ridiculous to subject current customers to that structure, and they may leave, NOW, thus making the need for 500+ categories moot.
It's not a Web design issue, as much as it is a site structure issue. This is something that you can sit down with the customer and plan out. Use paper prototypes, etc. Go through scenarios, set up fictional personas, etc. It's very important to do all of this BEFORE WRITING ONE LINE OF CODE. This is because, once you start writing code, you invest, and investments are hard to change.
I have had to work on a project where we designed an organizer interface. It was a HUGE job.