Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Epiphenomon of Amazon

Every single thing on every Amazon page is valuable. They've proved it with empirical testing. Everything you see increases their sales.

Every single thing on Amazon is clutter. Over the years, Amazon pages have gotten more and more cluttered, making Amazon harder and harder to use and hurting their sales.

Which is it?

Amazon has an amazing testing system. It's really quite clever. Whenever they want to add a new feature, or they're trying to figure out which of two different ways of doing something are better, they run an A/B test. The A/B test splits their users in half, at random, and gives each half a different experience. It doesn't take a lot of users run through the system to see whether the A group or the B group has more success in finding things and (this is what they really care about) spends more money. They take the feature whose users spent more money and -- voila! -- they've increased their sales. Repeat this over and over again and you've got a clear recipe for success.

Or do you?

There's no denying that Amazon is a very successful company and I'm not going to say otherwise. I'm an Amazon Prime member myself. But how much more successful could they be?

They're certainly trying hard. On the Amazon home page I see:

  • Shopping departments
  • Check This Out
  • Features & Services
  • A9 Web Search
  • Roy's Amazon.com
  • Today's Deals
  • Gifts & Wish Lists
  • Gift Cards
  • Search Amazon.com
  • Your Account
  • Your Cart
  • Your Lists
  • Introducing Kindle
  • What Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?
  • More to Explore
  • New For You
  • Customers with Similar Searches Purchased
  • Get Yourself a Little Something
  • Capture Picture-Perfect Memories
  • SCRABBLE Crosswords
  • Amazon Daily Blog
  • Treat Yourself
  • Amazon Unbox
  • Add to Your Collection
  • Check Out This New Release
  • Top Sellers in Video Games
  • Save with the Amazon.com Visa card
  • (an ad for Personalized m&m's)
  • Shop These Stores at Amazon.com
  • Where's My Stuff?
  • Shipping & Returns
  • Need Help?
I'm leaving some trivial stuff out, but, hopefully, you get the gist. I just refreshed and I see a lot of different things:
  • Shopping departments
  • Check This Out
  • Features & Services
  • A9 Web Search
  • Roy's Amazon.com
  • Today's Deals
  • Gifts & Wish Lists
  • Gift Cards
  • Search Amazon.com
  • Your Account
  • Your Cart
  • Your Lists
  • Introducing Kindle
  • Smooth New 120Hz 1080p LCD HDTVs
  • Whodunnit?! Browse Bestsellers in Mystery
  • Browse Bestselling Books in History
  • Buy Three Place Settings, Get a Fourth Free
  • Customer Favorites in Nonfiction Books
  • Cross Party Lines with Bestselling Political Books
  • Learn About the Networked Home
  • Amazon Daily Blog
  • Treat Yourself
  • Amazon MP3
  • This Year File with Ease
  • RailsSpace: Building a Social...
  • Bestsellers in Magazines: Parenting & Family
  • Save with the Amazon.com Visa card
  • (an ad for Personalized m&m's)
  • Shop These Stores at Amazon.com
  • Where's My Stuff?
  • Shipping & Returns
  • Need Help?
Wow! That is a lot of stuff. We could repeat that forever and I don't even know how many different things will turn up. Let's look at an item page for a well-known book:
  • The book info & pricing, links to Used & New copies, etc.
  • Special Offers and Product Promotions
  • Better Together
  • Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
  • Editorial Reviews
  • Product Details
  • Look Inside This Book
  • Customers viewing this page may be interested in these Sponsored Links
  • What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?
  • Looking for "book name here" products?
  • Tags Customers Associate with Similar Products
  • Are you the publisher or author? Learn how Amazon can help you make this book an eBook.
  • Rate This Item to Improve Your Recommendations
  • Customer Discussions
  • Product Information from the Amapedia Community
  • Listmania!
  • So You'd Like To...
  • Look for Similar Items by Category
  • Look for Similar Items by Subject
  • Harry Potter Store
  • Never Misplace Your Readers Again
  • Buy Three Books, Get a Fourth Free
  • Editors' Faves in Books
  • Another ad for personalized m&m's
  • Feedback
  • Where's my Stuff
  • Shipping & Returns
  • Need Help
  • Your Recent History
  • plus lots of other stuff at the top, bottom, and right
The one I find the most interesting is "Are you the publisher or author? Learn how Amazon can help you make this book an eBook." Of all the millions of people who visit pages on Amazon, the vast majority of them, something like 99.99999% of them, are not the publisher or author of the item on the page they're visiting. Yet I've had Amazon show me this section on books by well-known authors, as well as on things that can't possibly be made into eBooks (this one, for example).

If I'm not the author, I can provide feedback in lots of ways. I can review it, discuss it, or write about it on Amapedia (what's the difference between those options?). I can also tag it or rate it. Or, I can create a Listmania! list or a Guide that comments on it (what's the difference between those two anyway?) and Amazon helpfully shows me links to other people who have done just that. Gee, only seven ways to provide feedback.

The vast quantity of information presented to me by Amazon is truly daunting. Not only am I inundated with information but, if I see something interesting, I may not even be able to find it again because it all changes dynamically. While Amazon's A/B test results may well be completely correct for each of the individual features, users do not use the site as a set of individual features. They see everything all at once. They see the clutter of all of the pieces.

I realize that Amazon's not hurting for sales right now. But how much better could they do if they took a holistic approach to their entire user interface? Is there anybody or any group at Amazon who is responsible for the entire customer experience?

1 comments:

Brendan Regan said...

re: "Is there anybody or any group at Amazon who is responsible for the entire customer experience?"

This group MUST not exist. If they did, their heads would explode w/in the first week.

I interviewed there once, and they seemed quite silo'd. Maybe even slightly competitive against other silos.