I'll use a personal story - I'm in the market for a car GPS. Previously knowing nothing about them (features, brands, prices etc), so I started off a howser. I decided I want to check Crutchfield (great product filters and product descriptions), Amazon (access to more products, the seller marketplace and more customer reviews) and Best Buy Canada (Canadian pricing, option to pick up in store).
I began as a howser hunting for information about GPS and comparing GPS models, but not looking for a particular product or even sure what my "must-have" features were. I checked out several electronics online stores including Crutchfield and Amazon as well as reading gadget blogs and watching YouTube video reviews of various GPS models.
After my research phase, I determined the features I really care about are a 4.3" screen (rather than the 3.5") and text-to-speech (reads street names out loud).
Armed with this mission, I became a true hunter. Though I'm not hunting for a particular model at this stage, I am looking for a unit that specifically matches what I'm looking for and I'm pretty much ready to buy today.
So if I return to Crutchfield and select the portable GPS category, I am greeted with a budget friendly choice, the customer favorite and the staff pick.
Crutchfield once again addresses customer personalities (competitive, spontaneous, methodical and humanistic) with these picks.
I love these suggestions, but not for this product because I need to know I'm buying something with a 4.3" screen and text-to-speech. So I use the filtered navigation on the left to narrow results by screen size and features.
I can then sort by price or best customer rating (again, catering to personality types). But because I care about features, I'm going to either filter to under $300 on the left menu, or sort by price and compare the 5 lowest priced units.
Comparing them all side-by-side, I can then make an informed decision.
Amazon has filtered navigation by feature but only allows you to select one feature at a time, so you can't get as targeted results as you could with Crutchfield.
Amazon does have one leg up on Crutchfield, it greets the returning hunter with the product he/she last viewed, and alternatives based on the aggregate browsing and buying behavior of other shoppers:
And a close-up:
This is a huge time saver for the hunter who is returning to research more or buy today. It cuts out all the complicated filtering and sorting steps. The hunter can also leverage other shoppers' research and decision making. If a large enough percentage end up buying something else after viewing Item X, I may trust the "wisdom of the crowds" and follow suit (within reason).
Not every product category needs a comparison matrix, of course, but filtered navigation and sort-by options are great for usability and supporting hunters. Other sites that use filtering very well are Endless.com (shoes and handbags) and Overstock (everything).