If it works for Amazon, why wouldn’t it work for your site?

by Ariana Polyviou on 9 August 2010

When creating a new ecommerce website, one of the key issues that is likely to come up is ‘How to create a successful user interface?’ An easy answer could be ‘Do it like Amazon’ and besides, nobody can deny it, Amazon is one of the most successful ecommerce stores worldwide.

Amazon’s facts speak for themselves:

  • Listed at 17th position within the 1000 most visited sites for June 2010
  • Approximately 81,000,000 unique visitors per month
  • Around 3,600,000,000 page visits per month.
  • Market capitalization of over $50 billion

Sometimes it’s good to copy the big guys. But copying a successful design does not mean that the company’s success will be copied with it!

So, ‘If it works for Amazon, why wouldn’t it work for your site?’

Reason #1 – Amazon’s low prices offsets its imperfect user experience

Amazon definitely doesn’t have a sparkling interface design. So what is it about it that makes it so successful?

Amazon can afford to sell at cost or below cost prices, offer free delivery and still have profit! It relies on its large number of customers and its fast selling pace, which can provide cash before the payment of the goods, is due to their original supplier.

Question #1: Is this type of marketing included in your business plan?

Reason #2: Amazon’s existing customers are more important than new ones

If you’ve used Amazon before then it’s more than likely that you will easily find what you are looking for.  Firstly, because you know that in order to find the product that best suits you, you have to follow the process of:

  • Searching by a product by name
  • Choosing only one category of goods
  • Then have the sorting and filtering options enabled

Secondly, if you’re an existing user then Amazon already knows your purchasing patterns. This boosts up your chances to experience serendipity by receiving more personalised product recommendations.

Amazon has a lot of existing customers who are used to its product search process. Thus, making major changes to it involves the risk of dissatisfying its 81m+ registered customers. But what happens if you’re a new user and there’s no purchasing patterns log for you?

You’re most likely to get odd or not useful recommendations and struggle to search efficiently for the desired product. Therefore, unless you have plenty of time, patience or luck, it’s unlikely that you’ll reach a product’s best matches to your requirements.

Question #2: Can you afford transacting only with your existing customers?

Reason #3:  Amazon is continuously testing

Have you ever noticed frequent change of features in the layout of Facebook e.g. the Newsfeed?

Of course, if you are Facebook  (the website with the most traffic for June 2010) or Amazon, then you can afford to test some new designs and features directly on your users. Besides, losing some of them may not even be noticeable!

The problem with copying Amazon is that you can’t know what’s there to stay and what’s to be removed after a while. You can’t know which features have a positive and which ones have a negative return. Copying Amazon involves a high risk of copying features which are temporarily placed on the site just for experimental purposes.

Question #3: Can your ecommerce site afford having features that are possibly not usable?

Reason #4: Amazon has good customer reviews

Sometimes, people hesitate to purchase goods through ecommerce sites because they’re unable to physically see the item they’re planning to buy. Reading reviews of recent buyers of a product can provide future buyers with a clearer idea about what to expect from the purchase. It’s hard to get people to post feedback on a product. Statistically, 1 in 3000 of buyers are likely to leave a review for an item. Considering Amazon’s traffic, this still gives it enough reviews per product.

Many people choose to buy from Amazon not necessarily because of its good prices or interface but because of the trustworthy community and the content it holds.

Question #4: Is the size of your customer community analogous to the Amazon one?

Reason #5: Amazon’s famous name is enough for making its users feel secure

Have you ever noticed that Amazon does not have an EV SSL certificate? This certificate indicates when it’s safe to transact by changing the URL initials from http to https and turning the URL address bar green.

The use of this certificate is critical for making customers feel safe and confident to purchase goods using their credit card over the Internet.  But, if you’re as popular as Amazon, then there is no trustworthiness issue.  In fact, people may not even check to see if you’re using an SSL certificate.

Question #5: Is your  company as famous as Amazon?

In summary…

If your answers aren’t ‘Yes’ for the questions #1-5, then perhaps you should rethink before copying Amazon.

To sum up, just because the system is working for Amazon, it doesn’t mean it will work as efficiently for you. Each design is created to match a certain type of business model. If the business model of Amazon doesn’t match yours, then perhaps copying the design of Amazon to your site could be a bad idea.

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