Ecommerce Usability: Don't Copy Amazon

Source Title:
Amazon: No Longer the Role Model for E-Commerce Design
Story Text:

Since i first started asking questions about design i've heard, "copy amazon" for ecommerce usability. Jakob Nielsen says that old mantra is no longer good advice and that ecom sites should definately not try to emulate Amazon.

or e-commerce usability, used to be the model. In 2001, we evaluated the usability of twenty e-commerce sites and Amazon was the clear winner, scoring 65% higher than the average of the other nineteen sites. Having the Web's best usability served Amazon well: sales increased by 126% from 2001 to 2004.

Of course, rather than simply copy any one site, it's best to follow the hundreds of detailed research findings about e-commerce usability. But people often prefer to be told just one thing. For many years, that one thing in e-commerce design was "Do like Amazon." No more.

Amazon has recently changed so much that the average e-commerce site will reduce its usability by emulating its design too closely.


Still not following his own

Still not following his own advice I see.

All he needs are some wacky font colors and packaging art and you'd have a bonafide sales letter there.

What's Bad About

Cluttered pages. An Alertbox page I analyzed contained 270ish links.

Jakob Nielsen: No Longer the Role Model(if he ever was?) for Usability Design?

I see it as the painter

I see it as the painter whose house needs a coat of paint!

You never should copy it

I've got some opinions on and I've always had that. One of them is that it must be the easiest site in the world to SEO for.

Still, the word "usability" is not part of any opinion I've ever had about Amazon. Not even in the sense "bad usability" - it's completely and utterly absent. On this particular issue, I've never agreed with JN. But who cares, as he speaks louder than me *lol*

Amazon had some tricks up their sleeve which were nice. Really good tricks that emulated some usability things, i.e. the famous database cookie recommending stuff, but... those were always tricks and illusions that made it appear as if their site was better than it really was.

Truth is - their site always was awful, they only masked it with "usability gadgets" like "people who did this..." in stead of having true hardcore usability at the base level. It's the typical example of something that has just grown wild because the growth, size and complexity has been too overwhelming, and the plan you had at the start was too limited and inflexible to cope with the real site as it evolved in a spontaneous manner. So, chaos emerged.

Anyway, some people (eg. JN) thought that people visiting Amazon had a great experience, when in fact they were just being guided because there was no way they could ever learn the complicated behavioural ruleset that would enable them to navigate that site on their own. is a haystack made out of needles in random order, and you only get to see the tip of it. If ever there was a site in need of fundamental information architecture usability work that one would be it.


If a good proportion of your customers are used to another site - more than likely going to be Amazon - it's a good idea to at least be aware of their conventions, even if you consider them dumb. Look at some of the conventions we take for granted on the web, logo linked to "home", left hand menu, top menu, orange "XML" button for "RSS Feed" ... lots of things we do because "that's the way it's done" :O)

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