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Tired of hearing the Amazon excuse

Copying the designs and features popular web sites is something we all do. I do. You do it. It makes sense…why put a bunch of thought into something when someone has already done it for you? Sounds good, and in many cases it might work out okay. Making things familiar for your visitors is not a bad thing but understand why it is and why it isn’t. Don’t be lazy and use the Amazon excuse.

I’m currently evaluating the experience for an online store product to try and find places where it can be improved. As I watched a demo of the existing product and asked some questions, I got the Amazon excuse…“that’s how Amazon does it.”

Following the leader

It’s not the first time I’ve heard the Amazon argument. Over the last year I’ve heard it a lot from many people, UXers and otherwise. It seems when you’re building a commerce product the goal is to always “be like Amazon” but that’s not really what they’re wanting. They want the success of Amazon and don’t really care how they get it. Bottomline to them is that Amazon is successful therefore we should copy what they do and we’ll be successful.

How many times have you copied something and been truly successful?

If you can cite more cases than you have fingers on one hand, congratulations! I’m not talking to you. Go make your money.

I’m not one that likes to re-write what has already been written but I’m going to do that in this case because I think repetition is the only way to get through to some people.

The big question is simple: Why does Amazon make a lot of money?

Unfortunately there’s no simple answer. Unless you’re someone that works at Amazon, you don’t have the data and don’t really know.

  • Is it because their web design is awesome?
  • Is it because they have high margins on products?
  • Is it because of Kindle sales?
  • Is it because of good SEO?
  • Is it because they sell millions of items each and every day?

Those are all valid reasons but when it comes to design and experience you’re not giving yourself a fair chance when you just “do what Amazon does.” If you copy Amazon and expect your experience problems to be solved then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Amazon has millions of customers and sells millions of different products. That means they have a lot of data to help them make decisions. Unless you’re Amazon (which you’re not) you probably don’t have either of those things so why would you make the same decisions they’ve made? Lets say you have a friend that flips houses and makes mad cash. Why don’t you flip houses too? It works, right? Point being flipping houses works for them but it’s not for everyone. Same goes for the customer experience.

Don’t buy off the rack

The experience of any web site should be tailored for your audience. If your audience is broad then you need a broad design (like Amazon). If your audience is more narrow then you can make certain assumptions and design accordingly. Every case is different. There’s no silver bullet.

Amazon isn’t “doing it right” because there is no right answer. It’s working for them and that’s great…for them…not you. Don’t copy Amazon feature for feature because you’ll either miss something important or work a lot harder than you really should.

Using Amazon as a starting point to talk about what will work and what won’t is what you should be doing. Use the likes of Amazon for inspiration. If you find a step in Amazon’s path that makes sense, copy it. Use it. But think about each step and decide if it really works for you, your customers and for what you’re selling.

Of course, if you’re trying to copy Amazon to avoid making tough design decisions then you’re going about your project in entirely the wrong way anyway. In which case, go on, copy and good luck with your laziness.