Amazon and The Book Depository logosIf ever a retailer could get away with having exceptional cross-selling
and up-selling functionality, yet provide a new visitor checkout
process and web forms that break many usability rules, Amazon is certainly one of them. On the other hand one of Amazon’s competitors, The Book
Depository, certainly appears to focus more on providing better
usability throughout the buying journey, especially for new customers.

Following the recent e-commerce training course I delivered for
Econsultancy, the usability benchmarking that is part of the course
threw up some really interesting market insights. Although many
retailers are featured in the course, providing examples of good and
bad e-tail usability and best practice, I purposely refrained from
including Amazon.

The simple reason was that as they are one
the largest and most recognised online retailers, with the vast
majority of their customers repeat buyers (I suspect), shoppers are
much more likely to persevere during their shopping journey, even if
there are more usability barriers than other ‘smaller’ retailers.

isn’t to mention the fact that their user experience is highly familiar
to their regular and long standing customers as they only ever tend to
make slight tweaks, rather than big overhauls.

The Book Depository is one of the many e-commerce websites featured during the training course, and I’ve taken a look at how it compares to Amazon when it comes to providing good
usability, especially in the latter stages of a customer’s shopping
journey. It is worth noting that the comparisons are mainly based on the user experience for first time shoppers rather than regular shoppers of either retailer.

Product page usability

Both Amazon (77%) and The Book Depository (83%) score very highly when it comes to following best practice guidelines for their product pages with The Book Depository coming out slightly on top.

Product page benchmark graph

A few recommended areas for improvement would be:

  • for Amazon, providing a clear way back to the page you were last on ie. a sub-sub category page, or list of books that you have filtered out, would mean that shoppers aren’t restricted to just having one option to go back via the back button
  • also for Amazon, keeping visitors on a product page after adding the product to their basket could encourage interaction with the ‘frequently bought together’ product suggestions, as these specific suggestions are lost on the interim shopping basket page that is displayed

Cross-selling and up-selling

As expected Amazon (94%) perform exceptionally well when it comes to providing product suggestions, with relevance, intelligence and persuasion being 3 words I would use to describe how well Amazon’s shopping engine delivers these. The Book Depository is not far behind on 83%.

Cross-selling and up-selling benchmark graph

Some key reasons why both retailers perform so highly in this area include:

  • integration of add-ons into the buying process
  • using sales volumes to use what other people have bought to cross-sell
  • integration of user reviews to add a layer of persuasion architecture into the product suggestions
  • using words/headings which accurately describe how the recommended products relate to the product you are currently considering

Shopping basket usability

It is at the shopping basket that the usability, especially for new visitors, begins to diminish for Amazon (33%), reducing significantly compared to how well the product page is presented and how well the cross-selling and up-selling engine works.

It’s a much different story for The Book Depository (78%) who follow most of the primary best practice guidelines to encourage visitors to proceed into the checkout process with full confidence and intention to purchase.

A couple of areas that The Book Depository do well in terms of encouraging visitors to proceed to checkout include:

  • making the total price to pay absolutely clear, with no hint of sudden delivery charges that might be applied during checkout
  • highly prominent payment options featuring the cards accepted and the recently added Paypal checkout option

Shopping basket usability benchmark graph

Checkout process usability

This is where it gets really interesting. It is important to note that for returning shoppers, the checkout process (especially when using 1-click ordering) for Amazon will work superbly for them in delivering high conversion rates.

With the brand credibility and market share of Amazon being so high, and with the majority of shoppers (I strongly suspect) being returning shoppers, it is clear that Amazon don’t worry too much about providing a highly usable ‘new shopper’ checkout process experience.

For their new customer checkout process, Amazon (32%) perform extremely poorly. In comparison The Book Depository (70%) certainly follow more of the best practice recommendations which retailers should be looking at.

I suspect that Amazon won’t particularly be losing sleep over the potential frustrations and security concerns of first time shoppers, but if a potential customer had the option of ordering through Amazon or The Book Depository, their user experience would certainly be more intuitive on the latter and I would expect that The Book Depository have a lower checkout abandonment rate for new visitors.

Checkout process benchmarking graph

A few of the areas which are either damaging the usability of Amazon’s checkout process or slowing down the process for first time visitors include:

  • not providing prominent security assurances throughout the process
  • not providing a prominent help service, especially just an ’email us’ facility which is currently hidden away in the footer
  • forcing new shoppers to register in order to place their order
  • not providing a postcode look-up facility to both speed up address input and to help provide them with cleaner customer data

Checkout web forms usability

Alongside usability best practice guidelines for the checkout process as a whole, when looking specifically at the web forms used during the checkout process, Amazon (46%) once again perform very poorly. There is much written about form field best practice and Amazon certainly don’t appear to be too concerned about following recommendations and guidelines.

Once again, perhaps as a reflection of the greater importance that The Book Depository (79%) place on encouraging 1st time shoppers to make a purchase, they again perform much better than Amazon.

Web forms usability benchmarking graph

Some key areas where Amazon’s web forms could be improved include:

  • making it clear to first time shoppers what character length and format their password needs to be in, before submitting the form
  • giving context to their submit buttons, rather than just using the word continue
  • explaining why certain information such as their mobile number is being requested, rather than the shopper becoming wary of the potential of getting unwanted marketing text messages
  • making it clear which fields require completion, rather than having the visitor make presumptions and then potentially see an un-expected error message

Benchmark overview

Using PRWD’s benchmarking application I have been able to provide an overview of both Amazon and The Book Depository across the key areas of the customer journey described above. It also includes an average score for both retailers, with Amazon (56%) coming in a distance 2nd to The Book Depository (78%).

Amazon usability benchmarking graph

The Book Depository usability benchmark graph


Much is made of the likes of online giants such as Ebay and Amazon when it comes to good versus bad usability and customer experience. What is clear is that for these brands, making big changes to their customer experience (with the aim of providing a more usable experience) would in fact damage the current confidence that existing customers have in using these websites.

For Amazon they can rely on brand credibility to offset the fact that they may not be providing as good a user experience as other online retailers, although I would encourage them to ensure that they do more to make the checkout process more user friendly for new visitors.

From what I understand having had a few insights directly from them, The Book Depository adopt very much a usability design led approach, and from this short benchmarking exercise it is clear that this approach is paying dividends throughout their customer journey, especially when it comes down to the checkout process.

For any retailers interested in gaining much greater insights and a better understanding of the usability and best practice guidelines which have been used for this benchmarking article, take a look at the training course I deliver for Econsultancy.