The article was published on 27th March 2009 on Internet Retailing website.
In usability terms, Amazon is often referenced by experts as providing examples of good practice. Being voted most inspirational retailer in the Internet Retailing Inspiration Index has proved that Amazon is very successful in harnessing its user experience to drive sales.
Although some may accuse Amazon of being quite a cluttered and busy website, there are a number of individual design elements which are useful and time saving for customers.
For example, the login form is simple and does not alienate new customers by forcing them to complete a lengthy registration form.
However, search for the login section on the homepage and you might have difficulties spotting the ‘personalised recommendations’ link or immediately knowing this refers to signing in. Therefore, companies should be cautious about what they copy as what works for Amazon will not necessarily work for another retailer.
One of the main selling points of Amazon for customers is the availability of a number of customer reviews. But this could also become an issue if it begins to overload customers with information.
To avoid this, Amazon introduced additional functionality to reviews which make them easier to filter. Statistical averages and a star rating breakdown are provided in addition to those reviews deemed ‘most helpful’ by the Amazon community. All of these systems do all of the hard work for customers, making it easier for them to find useful reviews.
Although many aspects of Amazon’s web design are reproduced on many other ecommerce websites, it is still surprising when other design features are not. Especially those which improve the user experience. In keeping with the extensive personalisation of the Amazon website, items added to a customer’s basket are saved and remain there until the customer removes them.
This is the case even when a customer may not return to the site for weeks. Not only does this increase the conversion of items into sales, it provides convenience to customers and saves them any time spent looking for the same item again. Although Supermarkets have been providing this service for a while, other retailers such as Play.com have been much slower to see the benefits.
The reason for Amazon’s success is largely down to their design strategy. Instead of overhauling the entire design every couple of years, they make smaller, incremental changes which improve on the current system or add more functionality. In addition, they listen to the people most important to Amazon – their customers.
Their last design update early last year was highlighted to visitors using a link on their homepage; ‘We’ve had a redesign. Take a look’. Here they highlighted and annotated the various alterations and explained the features and benefits. Crucially they provided a form for visitors to feedback their opinions on the new modifications. When users are included in the process of improving the website, they can take ownership over changes and feel that their voice is valued.
The first time it changed the site in a major way; hundreds of users complained and formed groups to pressure Facebook into reverting back to the old system. Facebook did not go back to the old design, however during the implementation of the second redesign last year they did enable users to provide feedback.
Once again the new design was met with much resistance because users did not want change. Although this is a common issue when implementing design changes, it can be reduced significantly by applying changes slowly, one or two at a time.
The most significant characteristic of the Amazon redesign was that they only made a few revisions and of those, only one could be considered major.
Designing this way removes the risk of adversely affecting the user experience. This iterative method provides customers with bite sized changes which are easier to digest than a complete redesign.
Companies often make the mistake of doing this which not only costs a lot of money but also forces customers to ‘re-learn’ how to use the website. If you remove the familiarity of a website then people are more likely to get frustrated, give up and go elsewhere.