genter based search filtersIt was an interesting move when Toys R Us removed the gender filters from its UK website. There has been pressure for toy retailers to do this to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes and Toys R Us obviously decided that this is best for their company. It’s interesting because it is potentially damaging the user experience, making it harder for customers to find the toy that they want.

In my opinion this won’t be the case. I really don’t think that people need a gender facet when searching for toys. The blogger that wrote this article agrees: “My Son Likes Barbie. That Doesn’t Make Him a Girl.” On the other hand, I suspect it will have little impact on changing the behavior of toy buyers.

In fact, this change may actually improve the user experience. It really has nothing to do with gender-based stereotypes but instead with user design. If the gender filter is indeed not necessary for finding the toys you want, then removing it will simplify the search and navigation pages, meaning the user can spend slightly more of their cognitive load on making a purchased decision, rather than on assessing which, if any of the filters they should select.

Assuming Toys R Us has personalized recommendations, it will be interesting to see if the machine learning algorithms behind these will reinforce the gender stereotypes. I suspect, to the disappointment of the pressure groups and Toys R Us, this will be the case.