Infinite Scroll

This is a written version of a talk I gave at Refresh Teesside on May 21st, 2014. It’s a great local event and you should try to attend if you’re in the North East of England.

I recently read an article by Dan Nguyen title ‘Why did infinite scroll fail at Etsy?’.

Dan writes about a recent talk by Dan McKinley, Principal Engineer at Etsy on ‘Design for Continuous Experimentation’. In short, the presentation was on large scale A/B testing and specifically about Etsy’s attempt at infinite scroll and their testing of it.

In short, infinite scroll at failed by their standards for a couple of reasons.

This got me thinking. That same afternoon I tweeted out a quote from the article;

“Etsy spent months developing and testing infinite scroll to their search listings, only to find that it had a negative impact on engagement.”

It started a discussion between a number of people who either wanted to or were being asked to implement infinite scroll on the sites they were working on. They wanted to look to Etsy for insights.

Testing Assumptions

I believe it’s always best to test your assumptions if and when you’re able. You can find so many answers in data that you’d be hard pressed to find a reason not to test things.

Just because something might work or not work for Etsy, doesn’t mean it may or may not for someone else.

Ryan, who was involved in the discussion said “Surely the initial testing would have made it evident at the start of the testing?”.

I answered saying “Probably not. There’s a lot to test against, each take their own time to make anything conclusive.”.

To explain further; it would have been easy at that early stage to make a snap decision not to implement infinite scroll. With Etsy’s huge user base it may have been very shortsighted.

Remembering that Etsy is very much a community based ecommerce store they’ll have many different cohorts of users all with their own tendencies to browsing Etsy which they need to test against.

On top of that, Etsy will likely look at how infinite scroll is implemented technically as well as the experience of using it. Some questions may have been;

  • How many items show initially?
  • How many load in second?
  • How do they load in?
  • What loads in?

They’d look at the performance, remembering that Etsy have been working on their mobile web project in recent months, this would be important.

All of this takes time and that’s why I’d hazard a guess as to the reasons why they didn’t make a snap decision early on.

Why use infinite scroll?

But that’s Etsy, let’s put that to one side for the moment and think more about infinite scroll by itself and why you should or should not use it. You’ll often get people saying something similar to the comment below from team members, stakeholders or clients but that doesn’t make it the right decision.

“Let’s implement it so people can look at stuff!”

“We can show so much stuff!”

“People won’t get bored because there’s so much stuff to look at!”

There are scenario’s where infinite scroll is a perfect solution for what you’re trying to achieve. You see it implemented at sites like;

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest

Those companies want you to spend time on your site. You know what it’s like you go to facebook and you’ve gone the rabbit hole of finding out what your friends have done over the past day or so and you come up for air thirty minutes later and wish you’d get your time back. Facebook et al want their time on site average to be high so they don’t stop showing you a feed of information.

When not to use infinite scroll

At TJ, it was suggested that we implement infinite scroll at one point. It isn’t to this day and it won’t be in the future.

It is far too easy to implement something just because, but here are the reasons why it isn’t implemented.

Where it isn’t a perfect solution is often when a user has to complete an action, for instance at an ecommerce store or somewhere that you make a purchase.

Think about going shopping in your local high street, imagine if you just went shopping at random and every time you got closer to the end of the high street there would be more and more shops appearing so you’d go on and on and on and on.

You’d end up becoming tired or bored at the amount of selection and likely divert into a coffee shop or restaurant and give up on making a purchase.

Room for Thought

If you own a site or work on a site where customers make purchases and you’re thinking about or have implemented infinite scroll to provide your customers with ‘more’ try this out…

  • Remove infinite scroll
  • Add pagination and make the amount of items in a list anywhere between 15 and 30
  • Increase the visibility of search on your site and the ability for users to filter information
  • If you’re running ads to pages on your site, hyper-target them to landing pages which give your customers what they’re looking for (think about your ad copy as well)

Customers want to find what they’re looking for. They utilise search more often than you think. They want to complete tasks based on a number of different reasons but berating them with options isn’t one of them.

At TJ, we want our customers to find and book a hotel at a place of their choosing based on the requirements they have in mind so we’re presenting them with the information and results they need to do just that.

Infinite scroll is not the best approach for us. Is it for you?


You can read the full details about Etsy directly at Dan’s article.

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Head of Interaction and Service Design at DigitalDWP.