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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...


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

Related stories:
Amazon triples profits
Amazon to launch DRM-free music store
Jesse James Garrett on Ajax, Amazon and Web 2.0

Graham Charlton

Published 7 March, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

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Hi Graham: Great article. Your point about spelling mistakes got me thinking. In the example you mention running '80gb ipdo' on Google yields better results. I agree. If I run an ecommerce site can I have a search field which runs the query through Google before displaying results? This way I could more accurately predict what shoppers are looking for. My only question is: would Google allow this?

over 8 years ago


Kaya PPC, Internet Marketing Manager at Optimised Media

Great points. I think the biggest issue of all however is the inclusion of third party supplied products and services. People trust the Amazon brand and thats one reason they buy from the site. The inclusion of third-party suppliers I believe damages this. It might be increasing the product range but at significant cost. Amazon shouldn't become eBay.

over 8 years ago


Max Leisten

Good comments, Graham. I would love to see some metrics from Amazon how their conversion rates change with increasing / decreasing product detail pages, not only Product Ads and ClickRiver Ads but customer tags, product recommendations, reviews, discussions, Listmania. I am certain they track to optimize the monetization of a SKU.

If you look at this listing for this light set (http://www.amazon.com/Westinghouse-15-Piece-Cobalt-Solar-Stainless/dp/B000QY7X8C/ref=br_lf_m_1000201071_1_3_ttl?ie=UTF8&s=garden&pf_rd_p=366749401&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_t=1401&pf_rd_i=1000201071&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=19M5HAW077TNJ9W9Q0ZV) you first see product combinations (offers) and what other customers bought BEFORE you get the feature bullets and product description. Compare that to Amazon's Endless.com product listings for this New Balance shoe with a clean product description almost above the fold (http://www.endless.com/New-Balance-Mens-M587-Running/dp/B000VZSJZ2/ref=sr_1-2/?cAsin=B000VWAG5G&asinTitle=New%20Balance%20M587%20Running%20Shoe&&colors=Blue&size=20&dept=241993011&node=241993011&nodes=241993011&brands=New%2520Balance&keywords=&sort=shoesbrowserel2&onsale=0&newarrivals=0&&showDesigner=2&secondaryBrands=&sizes=&widths=&page=1&fromPage=search&contextTitle=Search%20Results&qid=1204988931&sr=1-2&asins=B000VV8FSM,B000VWAG5G,B000VV7L5K).

Of course all of this helps with natural search relevancy but there has to be a better way to render it / let the user access it without polluting the page.

over 8 years ago



Amazon is evolving and as it evolves it makes less from retailing and more from providing a growing number of services. Currently, third party invitation only retailers pay around £25.00 a month to list products on Amazon's website. Amazon encourages sellers to list as many products as possible and in fact sets minimums which tells you its main interest isn't in earning a cut from sales: it is in content. The vast majority of items on Amazon either never sell, or sell very rarely. In the very big categories with tens of thousands of products listed, a product that has say ten sales a week can be ranked within the best selling 100 items in that category. To monetise all these pages, Amazon treats them in the same way as Google treats search results and sells targeted advertising. When a page generates a sale, it makes an 8% cut on top.

over 8 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

BetterRetail - one solution would be to optimise your site search for common misspellings of your most popular items.

over 8 years ago


David Jacques-Louis

Another great article.

over 8 years ago

Ian Tester

Ian Tester, Senior Product Manager at brightsolid online publishing

Of course the best thing they could do would be to actually hold stock of the things that they sell you on the site or having some kind of reliable supply chain that could eventually provide them.

About 40% of my purchases currently end in emails months later saying "we're sorry but we have been unable to ....."

Maybe my tastes are too esoteric but I find Tesco more reliable on book/cd inventory these days.

Just my €0,02 worth.

over 8 years ago



Very good article, especially a misspellings database should be included in my opinion, too. Even if it wouldn't be as sophisticated as google, it can't be too hard to include something similar.

over 8 years ago



I am truly grateful to the owner of this web site who has shared this
impressive piece of writing at here.

almost 4 years ago

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