Amazon is one of the great e-commerce success stories, and we often use the site as an example of best practice. But what can it improve?

The site’s usability isn’t perfect but users have become familiar with the way it works, and Amazon won’t want to mess with a winning formula. It’s the same story with eBay. Change isn’t so easy once you achieve scale at a global level.

Nevertheless we’ve spotted some areas that could be improved upon…

Recommendations

Amazon’s recommendations are a useful way of finding new items but, if you buy a gift for someone else, then Amazon starts recommending irrelevant items.

The ability to label such purchases as ‘gifts’ so they don’t affect future recommendations would avoid this problem.

More filtering options

Filtering in e-commerce is an excellent way of helping customers decide what they want, and is essential when you have a large range of products like Amazon does.

Take movies for instance – the site allows you to filter by genre, sub-genre and price range, but that’s it. So, if I select ‘classic’, then ‘war and western’ priced between £5 and £10, I still have 389 results to look through, which is too many:

Amazon dvd search

A better idea would be to add further filtering options to narrow down the selection, such as year / decade of release, average rating, tags, and so on.

Don’t let people review products too early

For some strange reason, people often leave reviews of items that haven’t even been released yet. These reviews are worthless to other users and can skew the ratings.

This happens a lot for games. Grand Theft Auto 4 is not even due to be released until the end of April, yet someone has already given it a five star review! How do they know? They don’t. This could hurt Amazon in the future, despite it being an early pioneer of customer reviews.

Amazon review

There was a similar issue when Amazon announced the release of its Kindle book reader. Before it was even released, more than 300 reviews were written, which are totally useless to anyone who is thinking of buying one (most involved petty bitching about the fact that they couldn’t buy a Kindle!).

Amazon needs to futureproof the credibility of its reviews, by highlighting those where there is a firm purchase history, or by implementing a user review ratings system that could work a little bit like Digg’s comment’s functionality (with obviously fake reviews being ‘buried down’).

Deal with misspellings

By identifying common misspellings of products that customers are likely to search for on your site, you can take away some of their pain.

For instance, I searched for ‘80gb ipdo’ on Amazon. It’s pretty obvious what I’m looking for, but Amazon didn’t handle this very well:

Amazon search

For a comparison, if I enter the same misspelling into Google, the search engine knows exactly what I mean.

Give me author alerts

If I like an author, a band, or a particular actor/director, I’d like to be informed when their new book/album/movie comes out, but Amazon doesn’t provide these kinds of alerts at the moment.

Amazon will give alerts for ‘related authors’, but this means that you are getting lots of irrelevant recommendations.

Clean up reviews

In general, Amazon’s reviews are an excellent resource for making purchase decisions, but they could do with some tidying up to help users decide which reviews to trust.

Companies like Reevoo do this well, as their reviews are left by people who have actually bought the product in question.

Perhaps Amazon could highlight those users who have bought the product from the site, which should be more reliable, or else allow other users to rate the reviewers so people can have more information on which to base their decision.

Another thing they could do is to encourage people who purchase on the site to leave reviews – by offering discounts for instance.

Show me contact details

Contact details should be easy to find, and require little effort from customers to find. Not so with Amazon, they make you hunt around for contact details.

There is a contact us link at the bottom of the page, but it doesn’t exactly stand out, and you still have work to do before you can find a phone number to call or an email address.

You also have to sign in to get these details:

Amazon contact sign in

All told, from product page to finding a contact number is a 5 step process, which is longer than it needs to be.

Let me sign out

If I’m browsing through Amazon on a public computer, I want to be able to log myself out so no-one else can access my account, but Amazon doesn’t make this easy.

The sign out option should be somewhere prominent, like the top right of the page, but Amazon really makes you hunt for the link. You have to select ‘your account’, then find the sign out option among the 30-40 other links on the page. Very poor.

Less cluttered product pages

Amazon’s product pages are now getting pretty big, meaning that, not only do customers have a lot of scrolling to do, but there are plenty of things to distract customers from making a purchase.

This probably works for Amazon, because customers are used to the layout of the site, but it isn’t something we would recommend for most e-commerce sites.

Less advertising on product pages

This is another thing that adds to the clutter on the page, and potentially distracts shoppers from their purchases:

Amazon product page advert

Why, when you are thinking of buying from the site, would Amazon want you to click on an ad and go elsewhere?

Perhaps in their case they are confident that you will come back to make a purchase, but I wouldn’t recommend this for any other e-commerce site. The fewer distractions on product pages, the better.

Related research:
Online Retail 2007: Checkout Special
Web Design Best Practice Guide

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