One of the major shifts in e-commerce site navigation over the past few years has been the widespread addition of search facets, allowing users to navigate a collection of items using the different properties of the items in the collection.
You can see examples of this on every large e-commerce site from Amazon to Dabs. When you search they break down the results into groups and allow you to refine your search by telling you how many of your search results fall into each classification or category.
While this form of navigation is irreplacable for the initiated, there are still questions as to whether casual arrivals to sites are willing to engage with on-site navigation rather than retreating to the search engine of choice (okay, let’s just get over the little nicities and say Google).
ReadWriteWeb are reporting the latest figures from Hitwise that seem to show users are moving towards more and more complex search refinement using internet search, which I’m guessing means that either people are searching for more specific things, or they’re less frequently choosing a known site and its internal navigation.
Sites that invest time and money in the design of their on-site navigation would do well to pay attention to changes in their traffic patterns, and adapt their use cases accordingly.