It’s the world’s largest e-commerce retailer, yet Amazon breaks all the established rules.

So just how does Amazon get away with it?

Whilst pondering my latest purchases from Amazon I found myself slipping into something I often tend to do these days, analysing the site in my head and thinking about how it could be improved.

And suddenly it struck me. Amazon breaks nearly all the established “rules” of e-commerce, ignoring best practices left, right and centre, but still turns revenue and profit figures that most retailers would kill for. 

Let’s examine this argument in more depth:

  • Amazon bids on irrelevant PPC terms where it can’t fulfill the order. Sometimes the product is out of stock, sometimes it’s no longer on sale.
  • The product reviews often display polar opposite opinions on the same page, often lacking justification. How does that aid the customer purchase decision? I’d argue that it doesn’t.
  • Product information is almost always below-the-fold.
  • The horrific mega-drop-down navigation on the home page has only recently been replaced by slightly friendlier refinement-based navigation. Even so, it often takes four or five clicks before you hit your desired landing page via navigation.
  • Many products rely on their suppliers to provide descriptive content. Often this results in scant descriptions that are not optimised for SEO – let alone for the customer – and don’t provide a consistent tone of voice.
  • Amazon allows its own customers to undercut their product prices in the Amazon Marketplace. What high street operation would put up with that?
  • The cross-sell recommendation engine demands significant tweaking before it starts to offer truly relevant results. Just because I bought a christening present last month doesn’t mean I want to be presented with more christening presents every time I hit the site. And if I click into a product out of curiosity, I don’t want it to be assumed that I’m interested in anything similar. But it’s up to me to tell Amazon that.
  • The product returns process is complex and varies widely by supplier.
  • The checkout is text-heavy, looks complex and offers a break-out to return to the home page at the order confirmation stage – a real best-practice no no.

And remember this is from a company that claims to be the most customer-centric operation on the planet. 

So the question remains – how does Amazon get away with it?

  • The product range has enormous width. They’ve nearly always got what you’re looking for. The core product range has a very simple message; if you’re looking for books or dvds, we’ve (nearly) always got it.
  • For customers that know what they want, the internal site search is excellent and produces fast, relevant results.
  • Selling prices are low relative to the high street (though not always relative to web competitors).
  • The delivery message is easy to understand and the actual delivery of goods is extremely reliable.
  • It was first to market in the entertainment product field.

Next time you receive advice on best practices for ecommerce, rather than swallowing them wholesale it’s worth remembering the Amazon example.

It’s time to think ‘is this change right for my customers?‘ Will the change disorientate long-term customers? Will the positive impact on new customers override this?

Can I test this change before I roll it out across my site? Do I know what my customers really want, and if not, how am I going to find out?

Sometimes breaking the rules is the right way to go…