Summary: Amazon’s size and inventory breadth introduce weakness. Retails should focus on delivering exceptional customer experiences in ways that Amazon cannot.
1. Ensure high-quality and trustworthy products and reviews.
Because of the rapid growth of Amazon’s retail platform and the sheer volume of products sold via its 3rd party marketplace, Amazon struggles to keep counterfeit products and fake reviews out of its marketplace. Users have become wary about the legitimacy of products and reviews on the web because they have encountered questionable goods or content before and have become savvy at spotting fakes. Several users in our recent research for the new 4th edition of the Ecommerce User Experience report series had critical eyes when it came to reading reviews.
One shopper reading reviews about headphones on Crutchfield.com said, “These seem like regular dudes writing about it. Something to be aware of when reading reviews on bigger sites, is that people will get click farms or bots to post positive reviews. For these [reviews on Crutchfield], the use of language and punctuation is different on all of them. The information within them feels actually informative.”
Another shopper looking at a dining table on Wayfair.com remarked, “If it’s all good reviews or all bad reviews, something’s not right. Nothing’s all good or all bad.”
Small retailers have more control over the quality and legitimacy of their merchandise and reviews than giants like Amazon. Emphasize trustworthy brands on your website. Retailers that carry recognizable brands get extra trust points from users. Consider requiring email confirmation for all posted reviews or allowing only reviews from addresses that have purchased the item being reviewed. Emphasize the high-quality review content available with prominent placement and design treatment. On the reviews page, emphasize your company’s commitment to reputable products and content by including a short mission statement that mentions your company’s efforts to combat fake reviews.
2. Reduce user effort and anxiety.
Browsing and shopping on Amazon can be a lot of work. Participants in our research indicated feeling anxious and overwhelmed with options when shopping online, and Amazon’s experience is all about options — often thousands of them. Reducing the amount of effort it takes for users to complete activities on your site should be a general goal. Reducing effort can be done in a handful of ways. For instance:
- Curated inventory and robust search. Providing a small, targeted set of product options can limit the amount of work involved while browsing and comparing options. Site-search features that include carefully customized filters specific for each product type can also help users limit their options to only those relevant to their needs.
- Informational and easy-to-compare list entries. The job of a category page or listing page is to provide product options to users. List entries should provide sufficient information to help customers quickly identify important attributes and easily make comparisons.
One user browsing Amazon Daily Deals was frustrated by the poor design of the listing page. She was interested in checking the detail page for a pair of Bluetooth headphones. When she clicked the image of the headphones or the product name, she was asked to sign in. She said, “Why does it make me sign in to see these but nothing else?” After trying to view the headphones multiple times, she realized this list entry was actually for the chance to win the headphones. It wasn’t a product listing, but it was presented like one on the listing page. “I don’t like that. I had no idea that it was a giveaway. I had to go back and look at it like 5 times before I realized that. It looked the same as everything else.”
Many items on Amazon have poorly written product names making it difficult for browsers to understand what an item is at a glance. The same user who was browsing daily deals said. “I’ll typically browse on Groupon instead. I don’t really like to browse on Amazon because I have a hard time knowing what these things are without clicking on each one.” The second item on the listing page below was called Universal Socket, Kusonkey Professional 7mm-19mm Universal Sockets Tools Gifts for Men Him Husband Dad Father DIY Handyman Women — a very long, keyword-packed product name that was truncated in the product listing and useless for identifying the product. (The product was actually a drill-bit adapter that could be used with any size of drill bit.)
- Informational and well organized product pages. Well-designed product pages have an explicit information hierarchy that displays the most-important product information clearly at the top of the page, with secondary information being placed further down the page or within tabbed-content areas. Placing the most-useful information at the top gives people immediate access to it, without searching or scrolling. This information hierarchy should be consistent across product pages to support efficient comparison.
Amazon has quality-control issues with the information displayed on its product pages. Because of the high volume of products, many of them posted and sold by third-party retailers, Amazon’s product pages are often inconsistent and the display of information is problematic. Users became frustrated when furniture dimensions were absent or pushed down below the product summary at the top of the page.
One user looking for a dog bed said, “See, this bed has no information about how big it is. How am I supposed to know if it will fit in my space without that. Anything that goes in your home should always have dimensions.” The information was provided at the top of the page for other products, so she expected to find it in the same place for this one, too.
Beyond poor information hierarchy, Amazon tries too hard to push other related products. Placing these related items in the middle of a product-description page harms usability. The participant looking for the dog bed did not realize that she could scroll down past the related-product carousels to find size information. The carousels created an illusion of completeness, incorrectly signaling to the user that no more product information was included on the page. These issues and inconsistencies made her search for a dog bed much more laborious than was necessary.
3. Invest in speed and convenience.
It’s no secret: Amazon has got a leg up on other retailers because of its capabilities for speed and convenience. Speed and convenience go hand in hand: what’s fast is also convenient. Amazon makes it easy and convenient to purchase its products — through its Echo smart speakers, its Buy Now (one-click checkout) buttons on product pages, and, of course, through its free 2-day shipping for Amazon Prime members. These benefits attract buyers.
What works for Amazon may not work or be feasible for all ecommerce sites. Focus on your customer base and think about how you could make their experience on your site fast and convenient.
- Easy and convenient reorders. If you provide consumable products that see a lot of recurring orders, promote subscriptions or enable easy- or automatic-reorder features.
- Speed and convenience benefits for loyalty. Nurture your relationship with repeat customers by providing benefits to loyal shoppers. Many of our research participants were loyal to companies that provide them benefits for being so.
One user always looked for products on Target.com first because she earned 5% off by making purchases with her Target card. She also preferred Choice Hotels because, as a member of its loyalty program, she received extra service and benefits.
- Expedited checkout. Retailers like Barnes and Noble offer quick checkout capabilities to match similar features offered by Amazon. Consider if any of your product inventory would be well-suited for instant checkout for users with existing accounts.
4. Support mobile shopping.
A 2017 report on the latest trends in online commerce published by GlobalWebIndex indicated that mobile devices are now very much involved in the customer shopping and purchase journey. Our own qualitative research supports this finding: many study participants discovered products (sometimes by clicking on email newsletters) or researched them first on their mobile devices.
The growth in mobile shopping can be attributed to several new developments, including easy-payment technologies such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, PayPal, or Alipay, and the increased use of social media as a shopping channel by both shoppers and brands. Many shopping journeys include using social media to find products to buy.
For these reasons, small brands and retailers with niche product inventories are better positioned than Amazon to create the engaging and branded social content that inspires customers to purchase. Inspirational content that shows your products in use pushes users to your site. When they get there, a higher-quality experience than Amazon can turn them into buyers.