Amazon’s Terrible International Usability and a Proposed Redesign
Amazon’s Terrible International Usability and a Proposed Redesign
Note: Design best viewed in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, IE8+
In the 90′s, it was common for America to ignore the rest of the world when it came to online shopping. Websites were often built with no overseas shipping options or very restrictive country and state drop downs. Nowadays major American chains are still treating overseas customers like 2nd class citizens.
Take one look at overseas shipping costs on any store and then go compare them with a quote from DHL. They are ludicrous. For a country like Australia which is currently at dollar parity with the United States, it’s hard to believe that we still get the short end of the stick every time.
All I can say is, in America’s current economic climate, turning away keen Australian customers is a pretty epic fail!
Wake up Amazon. If you don’t act soon you might be the next Yahoo. There… I said it.
Update: I emailed Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) for kicks, and received an email from an ‘Executive Customer Relations team’ member. It was better than the canned response I received from my normal complaint. The email is at the end of the article.
Update: I’ve added a list of all the designs I could find that Amazon has had throughout the last 15 years of it’s existence at the end of the article.
My thoughts on Amazon
I buy everything online. Electronics, clothes, presents, all of it. I usually start with eBay, and if I come out empty handed I’ll try and find an independent ecommerce website. This year, when I went to buy an Amazon kindle for my mother, I ran into some usability problems I thought the Amazon ecommerce giant wouldn’t have.
When I explained the situation at work my coworkers made a few good points. Most importantly, that Amazon really pioneered a lot of the current ‘ecommerce standards’. Their ‘related products’ is said to be one of the most powerful around, the way they sell new and used products from multiple online stores is quite remarkable, and the user collaboration in reviews and product content all adds up to some pretty impressive features, despite recent attention on SlashDot.org that Amazon has Tonnes of Fake Reviews.
The main reason I’ve avoided Amazon until now is because I find the website very unappealing, cluttered, the liquid layout on my 22 inch widescreen makes it look ghetto old and the huge amounts of information on every page make it cumbersome to navigate. I checked around to see if other people felt the same way and found this, Amazon relying on brand credibility instead of good usability. The article compares Amazon UK to The Book Depository UK. It shows some graphs comparing usability performance (source unknown) between the two on different sections of their websites, and then explains exactly which parts are lacking. I tend to agree with most of the points in the article, especially the “Shopping Basket” and “Checkout Web Forms”.
I own two 22 inch monitors that sit side by side. Widescreens if not already, will soon be the majority of screen displays. It’s important that large websites with lots of content take this into consideration. Ironically, liquid layouts don’t help to make better use of this space in all cases. Google recently center aligned their website and gave it a maximum width of 1181px with the Google Instant addition.
Liquid layouts can work, but from what I’ve seen unless you use some sort of ‘fluid column’ system that automatically adjusts to your screen’s width (like Css Grid), things start looking messy. To be honest, Whirlpool is the only liquid layout I have seen that I like.
Update: Smashing Magazine just tweeted a really awesome example of a design using media queries to change the layout at 1200px, 990px, 760px, 480px and 320px. Source.
The ideal character length of a paragraph is around 40 – 50 characters. Below you can see what the amazon.com home screen looks like for me, followed by what it would look like with a max width of 1200px (the width I use on fluid designs), and center aligned.
My Proposed Redesign
I wanted to move away from the liquid layout… at first I was going to do a 1200px max-width fluid layout, but then decided to take it to the next level and work on a 960px fixed width column workspace to show how the content area could be used. After all, there’s a whole new host of 960 sized displays on the market in the form of tablets and high resolution smart phones like the iphone 4. The main problem I ran into with this was the left hand menu. You’ll notice on product pages of Amazon.com the left hand menu is displayed when you hover over “Shop All Departments”. I personally am not a fan of structure changes between different areas of a website. The more seamless you make the experience, the easier you’ll make your website to navigate (to an extent). I decided to keep the functionality more or less the same as the current website.
With the rest of the web design you can see all I’ve done is hidden unnecessary or extra information, positioned elements to be a little more eye-catching, and improved the styling with a clean and modern look and feel fit for 2010. The fragmentation between the Amazon USA and ‘outside USA’ product pages should really be combined for a more user friendly experience. Who knows, Amazon may notice this post and take something positive away from it.
I chose to redesign the Kindle Product page for a couple of reasons:
IT’S MASSIVE! I did a quick copy and paste into Microsoft Word and it was a staggering 62 pages long with 11,834 words. =|
It was the first product I ever brought off Amazon, and I was left feeling somewhat frustrated it wasn’t more straight forward.
I decided to specifically re-do the shipping, extras, buy, and the reviews sections. The rest of the content on the page could be cleaned up pretty easily with some tabs and image galleries.
In the screenshot below you can see the steps you have to go through to eventually add the Kindle to your cart. This process isn’t awful I know, but I really think it can be cleaned up and streamlined a lot.
For reasons unknown to me, Amazon have opted to include two separate sections for reviews, one at the top and one near the bottom of the page. These two sections have very similar and sometimes identical content, although the version at the bottom has logos. Reviews from major websites are obviously very important to showcase, but this section needed some TLC. Personally, when I see product reviews I only care about reading the ones from organisations I know of (which for me in this case was Engadget). I decided to combine this into 1 list, and then make them into a click-able slideshow.
Buying a Kindle, Computer Says No!
1. The first thing I did was try to access Amazon.com.au, which error’d out (hmm). So I went to Amazon.com, did a Ctrl+F for Kindle, and clicked the $139 version (the $189 verison funnily enough includes FREE 3G Wireless, but it’s $50 more?). Then I was presented with this page:
3. So I proceeded to checkout. You’re then brought to a ‘sign in or make an account’ page (seen below). Personally I like being able to purchase an item without making an account on a website, or use something like Facebook login, but obviously websites generally want you to create a username and password so they can start sending you newsletters and so you can more easily purchase items in the future. I opted to create a new account, which brought me to a new screen where I had to add my name, re-enter my email address, and confirm a password.
4. Then you’re brought to the ‘enter shipping address’ page. Notice this page is not a fixed width anymore and the paragraphs are massive.
5. So I entered in my details, picked Australia as my country, and was brought the a new page where I was told the Kindle doesn’t ship to my location. Awesome. The “Important Message” tells me I can buy the Kindle from the non-US kindle page. Now there are obvious reasons why this is not ideal. Having two pages for the same product, but one of those pages lets you ship outside of America? Surely they could combine the two into 1 page and save the hassle?
How many hurdles must I jump as a customer to buy something?As a web developer I am constantly encouraged by clients and marketers to reduce the barriers to entry for any online service or product purchase. If I didnt want the Kindle so badly, I probably would have given up by now. An online store should not rely purely on the fact that people want their products to sell them. Traditional commerce has taught us that buying environments are often more important than products. The best buying environments convert large amounts of upsells and impulse buys because they have been engineered to encourage purchasing and buyer comfort.
6. On the non-US kindle page I was presented with an empty cart. Had I been looking for lots of items for Christmas this would have royally annoyed me, but lucky all I had to do was pick my country as Australia, and then add to cart. I then needed to sign in again before I could pay.
If you want a Kindle in America, go to http://www.amazon.com/dp/B002Y27P3M/ref=btech_kindle_wifi.
If you want a Kindle in Australia, go to http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003DZ1Y8Q?country=AU
I guess to sum up on the usability aspect I have to say I’m disappointed with the process Amazon currently have in place. I can’t imagine what less capable people would do in this situation when presented with “we do not ship to your location”, I’m sure some would give up. The US and non-US verions of amazon should be combined into one body, or at the very least you should be given the option to ‘buy internationally’ on the US website.
Obviously this isn’t the worst experience I’ve had with an online shop, but considering the budget Amazon would spend on their website, I think they could not only do a lot better, but be the best.
Update: Menu Usability
Martin LeBlanc pointed out the menu I modeled off Amazon is not ideal for usability. You can see his image (left) as to why. Funnily enough when I was coming up with idea’s I actually put together the menu below (this image was scaled to fit inside this blog and obviously the text would be larger).
Here is a menu I really like: http://www.elon.edu/home/. Using something like this on Amazon would require some new categorization, but it would be a nice touch.
Update: Emailing Jeff Bezos
Dear Mr. Kindermann,
I’m Deborah Hankins of Amazon.com’s Executive Customer Relations team. Jeff Bezos received your email and asked me to respond on his behalf.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on international shipping. We really value your input, and are always happy to hear our customers’ thoughts on how we can improve the services we offer. To ensure your idea’s reviewed, I’ve shared your suggestions with our transportation team for their consideration when planning future improvements.
Mr. Kindermann, thanks again for taking the time to provide this feedback to us.
Executive Customer Relations