I was talking to an executive at a mid-sized e-commerce business the other day, as he described his plan for looking at the industry leader to get “inspired” on how to redesign his checkout. He, like so many others, had Amazon in mind.
As the e-commerce godfather, selling for $61 billion and widely recognized for employing endless testing and optimization, Amazon is very often considered a “source of inspiration”. In fact, at all of the last three conferences I’ve presented at someone have asked if I thought they “should do [insert website element here] like Amazon does it..”
Here’s my take on it: Simply copying any industry leader, including Amazon, can be downright harmful to your conversion rates and should never be a substitute for testing yourself (usability, a/b, etc).
You can’t piggyback on Amazon’s testing by simply following their designs and implementations because:
Of course, all of this goes for any industry leader, in any vertical – Amazon is simply the classic example. Also, do note that this is not to say that Amazon is doing anything wrong or that their true talent in the game of e-commerce shouldn’t be recognized. It is, however, to say that simply following the industry leader’s site is a perilous strategy because it doesn’t necessarily represent best practice and should never be done without thorough testing of its effects on your particular site and audience.
That said, looking at industry leaders to figure out new features and designs that could be interesting to test can certainly be meaningful as long as your own testing is at the core of such ventures. In other words, industry leaders can certainly be good sources of inspiration of what to test, but not necessarily what to implement.
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ohhhhh a great point of view, and a support to the Customers request “I wan’t it like Amazon”!
Great article, I think you make some very salient points! Not long ago I was reading an article elsewhere and read that exact comment ‘if in doubt, do it like Amazon because their site is tried, tested, successful..’etc. At the time I thought it made sense as it’s not really my area of expertise, but it’s really interesting to hear the flipside of that argument – especially in real detail!
Thank you for writing this! It is getting sent to all our clients!
This articulates what many UX thought leaders have been saying for years, that Amazon is it’s own animal and can be used for inspiration but not necessarily as a “role model.” Thanks.
Very thought provoking. Amazon is often looked at first purely for it’s mainstream success. But I have always found it’s design and flows a little backward. There are many more online shops out there that do it much better and deserve the “first” recognition!
One extra point to add to this fantastic article is not understanding the motivations for why something has been done the way it has. Very rarely are truly great products designed without thought or care as to what every part or piece of functionality does.
My favourite example is the iPad. Apple added a scalloped backing to the device, not for purely aesthetic reasons, but to aid the user in being able to scoop up the device off a flat surface.
Without researching that reason (if it was even made public), a company imitating the original product probably wouldn’t draw the same conclusions because they are copying for the sake of copying.
So without knowing why specific choices are made, or specific rationales are decided on, it is a very poor decision to duplicate functionality or copy from another company.
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