The Amazon subsidiary AmazonFresh has been selling groceries in the US for several years now but is starting to expand its reach across the US, adding San Francisco and Los Angeles to its delivery areas last year.  

With around a fifth of us in the UK buying our food online the practice is well established, so what innovations may the online retail giant bring to this marketplace?

We asked a group of US based users to try out the service using Whatusersdo to record the results. 

Its web interface is fairly standard, sporting a different and perhaps slightly more modern look and feel than its parent site.

Although users particularly liked the persistent shopping basket in a side panel where an order in progress can be amended, and the product details page which shows nutritional information together with customer reviews, neither of these features are actually new to us in the UK.  

Read on to find out what our users thought of AmazonFresh, or for more on this topic read our posts on how SEO helps Tesco to dominate the online grocery market and 14 cracking UX features of online supermarkets.

Amazon Dash

AmazonFresh is not solely relying on its web interface however to secure greater market share. In the same way that Amazon changed how we read, it is also attempting to innovate how we create shopping lists.  

In addition to the usual web based ways of ordering, customers can also make use of a handy new tool called Amazon Dash.

Best described as a bespoke ‘wand’, the Dash can be used to add items to an AmazonFresh shopping list by scanning the item or speaking into it.

This could be seen as a little gimmicky since a mobile phone app could do the same job, but there is value in having a bespoke device that can sit in a kitchen cupboard – it is unlikely to be left on the train or be out of juice at the bottom of a bag when you’re desperate for it. 

After using the Dash to create your list, you then complete the order using the desktop or mobile service.

Doorstep delivery

And when it comes to delivery they also offer something genuinely novel. The standard cheaper option is doorstep delivery for which AmazonFresh will leave your shopping in temperature controlled bags ready for you to get out of bed or home from work.  

This service was very well received by our user testers.

Although I don’t mind a brief chat with the delivery guy and wouldn’t want to see him out of work, this option is far more convenient than having to either wait in or rush back from somewhere just to be handed the bags.

The only slight snag in this offering is that for purchases of alcohol the customer must be present for delivery and pay the higher charge.

Browsing the ‘aisles’

Like its counterparts in the UK, the AmazonFresh UI does suffer from some usability issues that will cause customers problems.

Even from the homepage, some users had difficulty in their first steps of browsing for products. For example, one user did not know where to start and had reasonably expected to see the main categories laid out on the homepage, which they were not.

Another wanting to buy bagels clicked on an image of the product, again reasonably expecting to be taken to that section in the bakery. But it was actually a promotional image for catering so he was taken to that section instead.

Menu navigation

Deeper into the product some users were confused that there seemed to be two main menus – the ‘Shop’ menu and another menu accessed by clicking on the ‘All AmazonFresh items’ breadcrumb link.

As in a real supermarket, knowing where you are and how to get to the next destination are key if you want to be in and out before the next meal time.

Unlike its parent site, AmazonFresh has designed its product category menus to contain both subcategories and filters and this caused confusion.

Users found it difficult to navigate ‘back’ through these categories and one user got unexpected results when looking for wine as he did not realise he still had a brand category selected relevant only to beer so assumed the site did not sell it. 

Search

Some users preferred to search for products but this was not without problems. The suggested search results seem to include misspellings or very alternative spellings at best, which produced confusing unhelpful results – ‘cantelope’ melon anyone?

It will be interesting to see whether the key players over here make any changes in response to Amazon Dash or the doorstep delivery offering, but they should not necessarily look to emulate everything Amazon has done.