Amazon.com Critique
July 18, 2009

I have grown to have a love/hate relationship with Amazon.com over the years. I refused to use them at first, because, frankly, why pay to have a single book shipped when I could pick it up at Barnes & Noble? Seemed silly to pay for it being delivered and for having to wait for the book. I can remember a time when I liked the layout of their website - it was cutting edge. And it seems that the more Amazon.com has become a site for everything including the kitchen sink, the more I shop at Amazon.com and the less I like the website itself.

Their search feature is good. Their so-called AI which makes recommendations for you based on your purchases and browsing history is pretty good. (Hey, for all the complicated code that has to go into building that, I think it's a minor miracle, myself. Even when it suggests that I might want to buy an iPod after looking at cases for the iPod I just bought from them - it's still pretty damn impressive overall.) Their main homepage is nice. The nav is mostly decent.

But two things irritate me to no end about the Amazon site. One is their product pages SUCK. I cannot emphasize that enough. It's like every executive with their pet theories got together and laid out the page ... and then allowed the designers and UX folks make it look purty. My biggest gripe is the page is just too long. Yes, people have learned to scroll down a webpage to find further information (there is often a great fear at e-commerce companies that users do not scroll and thus anything important has to be "above the fold," or within roughly the top 600 pixels of the webpage), however, needed information should be close at hand.

In my opinion, for a site like Amazon, their first block below the persistent navigation bar is good - they have the product image, stock status, purchase options, price - and then a right hand block with Add to Cart, Add to Lists (wishlists), more purchasing choices, lists, share. To even out the left side block with the right side, Amazon has chosen to put "Frequently Bought Together." Now, this is a good feature and I like seeing it. It probably should be up near the top. But I really think given the range of products they have, that block should be further down and the paragraph product description should be there instead.

The problem for Amazon is one that plagues the web in general - it's more than information overload, it's like trying to cram all of Wikipedia into your head at once (with all the good and bad of Wikipedia). Tech details, mechanical details, What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?, short form product details & average customer review & Amazon sales rank, related products, Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought, you might be interested in these sponsored links, tags customers used, huge section for reviews, customer discussion and forums.

Wait, we're not done. I just thought we needed a paragraph break.

Then there's Amapedia Community, Listamania, So You'd Like to ..., Look for similar items by category, Advertisement, feedback, a section encompassing Where's My Stuff, Shipping & Returns, Need Help?, then Your Recent History and finally now ... the footer.

As I said, a big part of Amazon's product page issue is information overload on steroids. Their product descriptions come from the manufacturers or from the marketplace sellers which means some are two sentences ... and some are literally a full web page's worth of information in and of themselves. In my opinion, Amazon needs copy writers employed to specifically standardize a short-ish paragraph about the product and put it up at the top of the page next to the product image. If there's a plethora of additional information to be had, they need to have a "read more detail" link and put that information somewhere else - preferably not actually on this ridiculously long page.

Or, of course, they could use Ajax or any one of a number of javascript libraries to allow the information to be hidden until the users clicks something. Target does this with their little tabs. An example is when I used their top navigation menu and hovered over Electronics and then chose PS3. In order to maximize that space "above the fold" Target has given you three tabs. PS3 games, PS3 consoles, PS3 accessories. You can very quickly, at a glance, choose what you're looking for. Now if I click on the PS3 console link, I'm given a further choice - a Quick Info choice, or the standard click the title of the item to go to the main product page.

Quick Info pops up on the page immediately. No real load time to go to a whole new webpage. Now I get a larger image of the item, pricing, add to cart options along with add to wishlist options (and the option to find it at your local Target). You also get the stars rating for reviews and a tab of details, which scrolls down for everything you need. And, should this Quick Info not be quite enough - or just enough to wet your whistle, there's a link to View Full Details.

It's all quite sleek, it looks clean and easily understandable.

Amazon's on the other hand, drives me up the wall every time I'm looking for information on a product I want to purchase from them. First, I have to scroll down the left nav to find Electronics and then Video Games. That page leads me to a cacophony of stuff. The left nav again saves the day and I can click under Consoles to choose Playstation 3. But that landing page is primarily a cacophony of stuff for PS3 and not the game system itself. Instead, I have to use the left hand nav again, look under Hardware and click Consoles. Isn't that what I just did in the previous step? Apparently not quite. Now, I'm finally presented with the choices to buy a PS3. Lots of steps. And, then, of course, the product page is quite long as I've already mentioned.

A screenshot of an Amazon page reveals that it is a whopping 7,419 pixels in height. Most people are running a monitor with a screen resolution of about 1024x768 pixels, which tends to make the average browser's window perhaps about 650 pixels high. That comes out to about 11.5 "pages" of information to scroll down with Amazon.

Target's product page is perhaps half the length of Amazon's, with about 3578 pixels in height, which comes out to about 5.5 "pages" of information to scroll through.

Think about the old Sears catalog that we all loved to pour over as kids. Yes, we get more information now, that's true. But is it all really useful information? Just because we don't have a perceivable bottom-line price on publishing a web page versus publishing a catalog on paper and mailing the durn thing out doesn't mean there is no bottom-line price. I think there's a huge toll taken on people looking at those pages. When you want the information, you go looking for it and certainly want it at your fingertips. But I think Amazon's 11.5 pages of information is excessive and ridiculous. The page looks busy and overfull.

Target, while giving a lot of the same information, uses space more efficiently. The layout contains a lot of whitespace and feels less crowded.

Amazon, on the other hand, has a website that reflects a very messy way of thinking, which I think is reflected in the company itself. They've grown too big to know what they are any more and so they try to be everything to everyone. The end result is things like the Kindle suddenly yanking books that were paid for OFF of people's devices (and returning their money as well) in order to keep publishers happy, but not their customers. (In fact, look at the mindset of Target's "guests" vs. Amazon's "customers" - it seems to make a corporate difference in the thoughts behind the sites.) Amazon is simply juggling too many balls and trying to continually add in the balls from all the jugglers around them. And that kid down the street. And you, do you have some juggling knives, rings? Amazon would like to juggle those too. And bowling pins. And maybe even some chainsaws like the guys who are The Passing Zone.

And now, here's a breakdown of Amazon's product page. I have taken a screenshot of an actual product page and then covered the various blocks with a solid colour. I then reduced the width to 400 pixels so it would fit here, and that scaled the height. I did the same for a Target product page.

Amazon

Snapshot of Amazon product page, breaking sections down to solid colour blocks

Target

Snapshot of Target product page, breaking sections down to solid colour blocks

Posted by Red Monkey at July 18, 2009 8:31 PM | Design | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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