Amazon does soo much right …
Amazon does a ton of things right, almost too many to list, but here goes …
Across the top of every page is a massive and clear search box (this is a big site, and users are often in a hurry) whilst the top navigation is clear, obvious and maintains an air of consistency whilst changing subtly according to category.
If we divide individual product pages into three columns, the left-hand column contains the product image, the middle column has a product description (with star-rating), price, savings, delivery information and availability, and the right-hand column shows the shopping cart. Clean, simple and functional, the typical Amazon web page must be the result of hundreds of hours of research and eye-tracking studies. It’s a brilliant starting point for learning about information architecture.
Fast-loading web pages
The junk is loaded ‘below the fold’ after the good stuff has been loaded at the top. It seems obvious, but many websites are riddled with ads relying on a plenitude of third-party servers, or are lazily designed to load a sidebar only after loading a ton of junk. There’s nothing worse than a browser rendering a page as you read it, or content ‘hanging’ because some naff advertising network can’t afford fast servers.
Reviews are the heart of Amazon. How many of us spend time checking out the reviews before purchasing a product?
Amazon manages to keep obvious spam out by insisting on proof of identity before a review can be left (you have to buy a product first). They also promote the use of real names to inculcate a sense of personal responsibility (thus reducing their spam workload) and clearly have human reviewers double-checking reviews.
Users can rate each other’s reviews (’3 of 6 people found the following review helpful’) and can leave their own responses to reviews. Reviews have a thousand-word limit and in the case of books many people choose to give a concise and step-by-step overview (which paradoxically often adds to the desirability of the book) whilst others leave a more generic ‘impression’ (which is just as useful).
Wishlists are a brilliant concept.They’re all about the dream – the dream that one day you’ll be able to buy product X (or your loved ones can buy it for you ) and in the meantime your dream is safely stashed away in a little box on a far-distant website.
Using their huge database and seeing how the great crowd flows (i.e. what you and I and everyone else buys) it’s easy enough for Amazon to figure out what products are likely to interest which type of customer (which is a bit humbling, as it implies that we’re not so unique after all). And Amazon lets us know discreetly about those recommendations at every opportunity. Even in our emails (I think I’m getting too many of those emails, Amazon ).
- and over-delivery. And how!
Everything’s made easy at every turn, and then your parcel arrives on your doorstep quicker than expected, and it’s in that lovely, functional, neat little cardboard packet with the logo on it and at that point the Pavlovian responses kick in as you sign for the packet and hurry indoors and tear open the cardboard – !
(Oh. Is that just me?)
Amazon’s professional through and through, and consistently professional, too.
But Amazon also does some things wrong …
Years ago Amazon had delusions about entering the Search Engine market with its own search engine, the ludicrously named A9 (which utilised the Google index). My memory of A9 is of an utterly mediocre search engine.
But A9 also powered (and still powers) Amazon product search.
And boy, is it crap!
It’s not too bad on the broad range of categories but it’s hopeless with books. Unless you enter the exact title of your book you’ll get ‘Your search did not match any products. ‘
Here are some Amazon search results, and see if you can work out what the original title of the book was:
‘Your search “Chin Shakes The World: The Rise of the Hungry Nation ” did not match any products.’
‘Your search “China Shakes The borld: The Rise of the Hungry Nation” did not match any products.’
‘Your search “akes The World: The Rise of the Hungry Nation” did not match any products. ‘
On other products the search isn’t quite so obviously bad:
‘Your search “ilter Cartridge” did not match any products in: Kitchen & Home’
‘Your search ” Filter artridge” did not match any products. Did you mean: filter cartridge’. (Success!)
What, exactly, is the point of a search engine where you need to know precisely what you want before the ‘search engine’ will deliver a result? Because of the incompetence of Amazon’s ‘search engine’ I now use Google to find the ISBN of any book whose title or author I don’t exactly remember, and then paste that ISBN into the Amazon search box.
Wishlists are grand but because they’re wishlists (things we wish for) they end up getting very long and spread over many pages. It would be so nice if there was the option to show as many items as we want on one page. Easier to scan and easier to pick out titles we may have bought elsewhere or no longer want.
But the biggest bugbear of all is that bought items aren’t automatically removed from a wishlist. Have I missed something here? Is there a magic button somewhere? Who on earth wants to buy something from a wishlist, or have something bought for them, and then have to hunt through that same wishlist to manually remove the item from it?
Subtle spam still gets through i.e. jerks kick-starting or promoting their own or their mates’ books. There are give-away signs (e.g. look at their other reviews if you’re suspicious) but why make the spammer’s jobs any easier by listing them all?
There are also those who don’t buy the book but just want to vent their anger at the author.
A little trick if you don’t like a product is to leave a one-star recommendation rather than the two or three star recommendation it probably deserves, and on a long-tail product that doesn’t get too many reviews there’s a high chance enough people will like your recommendation for it to appear in the high-visibility ‘Most helpful critical review’ column.
Feedback and Complaints
Years ago I wrote to Amazon and pointed something out and in response got a cookie-cutter letter reply.
If I remember rightly it was one of those corporate replies that make the customer feel worthless and in the wrong.
I’ve never, ever bothered communicating with Amazon since. Have they changed? I’d be very surprised if it they have, but who knows?
Meanwhile here’s an observation: corporations go through a life-cycle like everything else. Few survive more than 12 – 45 years (depending on the research you choose). On the internet everything goes in fast motion and is comparatively transparent, so it’s not too difficult to chart the decline and fall of great ‘empires’ and figure out patterns. The greedy and stupid search engines of a decade ago have long since gone (though Yahoo! still lingers, at least in name) – but at least they served as a well-documented and useful primer.
Amazon, in other words, won’t last for ever.
One of the simplest lessons to come out of the old search engines’ debacle is that patterns of behaviour reveal a mindset, and the mindset indicates the future of a corporation long before financial figures show that it’s going belly-up.
(Tip: offline, one of the more obvious indicators of corporate decline is the warehouse-sized mall with more staff than customers.)
In recent years one pattern of behaviour from quite a few huge companies has been the creation of what I like to call ‘forum ghettos’…
Whenever I come across a ‘forum ghetto’ I know that that company is in deep sh**, though it’ll take years to play itself out.
So what’s a forum ghetto?
Simply put, it’s where the corporation has lost sight of its customers and abandoned its own forum, where customers vent their rage in impotent anger for the whole world to see.
And guess what?
Amazon has all the signs of having its very own incipient forum ghetto … which is a shame, because I like the service that Amazon provides and don’t want it to go bust just yet.
All organisations can get to the point where they imagine they’d function quite nicely if it wasn’t for their pesky customers and their awkward human demands interfering with the smooth running and internal relationships of the machine. And that’s a danger that’s most easily avoided by communicating with the outside world, particularly the outside world that doesn’t admire you.
But for corporations, customer support is high-cost and has to be optimised so that the company doesn’t spend too much time and money on it. You’ve probably hunted high and low on some corporate site or other, wondering in frustration why they make it so difficult to contact them – now you know why. It’s too expensive, and they’re trying to filter out all but the most determined complainants.
Let’s save money and create a forum
Big corporations become arrogant due to their ‘success’, little realising that it’s a phase and that long-term survival involves keeping in tune with the outside world and coping with a lot of change. And yet the corporation’s executives realise (at least at an intellectual level) that there has to be some sort of communication with customers. They’re also well aware that frustrated customers will set up their own websites if there’s no alternative, and the corporation would rather have customers inside their tent (‘pissing out’) than outside their tent (‘pissing in’).
And so the ‘brilliant idea’ is a section of the corporation’s own website where they can have a forum. And rather than showing up at the forum themselves, the Corporate Big Shots send out the message that happy-clappy ‘evangelists’ – enthusiastic customers - should be the moderators.
And Lo! It comes to pass, and customer service becomes outsourced to the customer’s themselves!
In part, this works. Customers share information whilst the slightly smarter corporations send in low-level drones to mutter soothing words and give the appearance of caring. But the reality is that hearing unpleasant things about your own department or company is too painful for the Big Shots and so they stay away – whilst the lower-level drones can’t change anything.
And so resentments and complaints start stacking up.
And before too long there’s a ‘forum ghetto’, abandoned to a horde of angry, buzzing customers desperately seeking answers from a corporation that’s desperately trying not to give any.
Forum ghettos are brilliant!
Still, I personally love forum ghettos.
They reveal so much about the true workings of a company and in such an incredibly short space of time, too.
- I love reading about the stupidity and mindlessness of the corporate drones (right up to the CEO level)
- I love reading about the mistakes that the company drones keep on repeating as gospel, even when the customers are screaming at them not to
- I love the Big Shots’ blind arrogance
- I love the way that customers try to help each other
- I love the way that the corporation eventually starts turning against its own customers
- I marvel, truly marvel, at the blind folly of the whole organisation
As entertainment (guaranteed to induce shock, amazement and even awe) a forum ghetto is truly without equal.
There are medium sized companies dying all the time on the internet. I can think of at least one that has the ‘forum ghetto’ mentality, with the added twist that old threads are regularly deleted to ‘save on disc space’ conveniently hiding a history of customer outrage. But it doesn’t seem fair to pick on little fish making all the wrong decisions. It’s far more fun to point at the gross stupidity of the Big Boys and Girls.
Example 1: Ebay
So here’s one of the more recent threads to chew through on Ebay, with
13,000 replies so far (last updated January 2011). 19,584 replies so far (updated 2/2/2013) and widespread use of the term Ebafia to describe the Ebay hierarchy, as well as allegations of Ebay-sanctioned shill bidding.
A few selections from that
13,000 19,584 :
What has eBay become?
only 2 words describe ebay now:
1. stupid – refers to lack of ability
2. ignorant – refers to lack of knowledge
But I am afraid the die has been cast here now – and this slide will continue with ever increasing speed.
Free listings are a joke too and I’m not even interested. They could be free all the time but if I’m not getting search exposure then who cares.
Do you really think they are doing it deliberately? I’m more inclined to think that it is simply incompenence on a grand scale, after all as I have previously opined: clearly, none of them have got a clue about “marketing” or database management; their only … skill is the ability to suck the last milliliter of blood out of an otherwise healthy patient.
Ebay has for years has been terrified of Google (Google Checkout is banned on Ebay)
Ebay failed to utilise Skype in any meaningful way
Ebay ignored fraudulent practices for as long as it could (until taken to court)
Ebay owns the appalling PayPal (search for ‘Paypal freeze account’)
Ebay charges sellers for every little thing it can think of (apart from breathing)
Ebay appears to be chasing out the traditional small-time sellers in the deluded hope that it can become a marketplace for larger companies like Amazon.
Ebay is increasingly loathed by its own customers, the sellers
Example 2: Google
And here’s a short thread on Google about being banned from using their Adwords accounts.
Here are a few choice snippets, in case this thread ever ‘disappears’:
“Thank you for your email. The best I can recommend is to look through ourTerms and Conditions found at https://adwords.google.com/select/tsandcsfinder. As I mentioned, your Google AdWords accounts do not comply with our terms of service and advertising policies. As a result, your accounts have been suspended, and your ads will no longer run on Google. Thank you for your cooperation.”
What arrogance on the part of Google!
I have gladly moved over to Yahoo! and MSN, their customer support is 20X better than Goolgle’s and I actually get the impression that I am valued as a customer! If there is a problem with any of my ads they let me know and I correct the problem.
Good luck getting anything out of google’s people. Their cavalier attitude is unlike anything I have ever experienced. You would think you were dealing with employees of the federal government instead of a billion-dollar corporation. Google consistently does this to not only you and me but to who knows how many potential advertisers.
I find it very strange that Google employees would actually tell their customers to go elsewhere
(this was in response to a Google employee saying: ‘Our two major competitors are Yahoo! Search Marketing, and MSN adCenter – each of which offers a CPC advertising program.’)
google treat ordinary people like a piece of crap,
Really disappointing, now I really hate google.
like i’ve said… once i contact them again they don’t explain anything and then they tell me to never contact them again. so like, what are we supposed to do, since they clearly don’t want us to talk to them to even get a clarification.
REMEMBER…EVERY GREAT EMPIRE HAS FALLEN…Google will have their day..! (remember when we all heard the “You’ve Got Mail!)…now where is AOL?
At the time of writing the Google forum is full of 404 pages (page not found), but there have been far angrier threads than this in the past.
Note the drone employee muttering soothing words but being of no practicable help.
It’s also not difficult to find the self-appointed ‘evangelist’ types on the Google Adwords support forums, telling anyone who will listen that it’s their own fault for not observing the Google Terms of Service (yawn). Creeps.
Google currently looks like it’s invincible, but there’s a story behind this particular forum ghetto and Google’s appalling arrogance and complete lack of customer support … Boiled down to its essence, Google appears to have a long-term strategy of creating the ‘mediocre web’, where favoured corporations stuffed with Adsense fill the top spots across a wide range of key phrases with just-about-good-enough drivel (‘relevant information that the user is looking for’) on their websites. This saves Google tons of work in weeding out blatant spam whilst also driving commercial companies that would have had those organic spots to the side rail (Adwords).
Google has long been a deeply amoral company, hidden behind brilliant PR:
It allowed (and still allows, despite its protestations to the contrary) ‘thin’ affiliates to flourish in markets where there are no advertisers. Once the market has matured it unceremoniously dumps those affiliates. It’s now setting up its own affiliate networkIt promoted the ‘blending’ – effectively camouflaging – of Adsense
It allowed (and still allows) MFA (made for adsense) sites with virtually no useful content to flourish as long as it’s in Google’s interests to do so
It allows what might euphemistically be described as ‘misleading’ products to be promoted in Adsense . Want to earn a degree in 15 days? Fancy some fre* MP3′s? Want to get rich quick? (Adwords may or may not be shown depending on the time of day, where you are, etc. ) Fancy some free government grants?
It’s increasingly competing in the search space as a monopoly (in the UK) and a virtual monopoly elsewhere. Google has more data points and more reach than any other player and has its own verticals and its own media empire It (allegedly, because the EU is taking Google to court) promotes its own products, and somehow its own ‘proxies’ (ehow.com, about.com) end up in the top 10 of the SERPS across a broad swathe of key phrases
It feeds misleading data to its customers – for example, popular key phrases are omitted from its keyword research tool, presumably to make advertisers dance around trying to find relevant phrases
It sets defaults on its Adwords accounts that favour the house Google
Google was fined $500 M (thereby avoiding prosecution, shame!) for illegally abetting the sale of prescription and non-prescription drugs
Google tries to control advertisers and webmasters through FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)
In short, behind the scenes Google is messy, dirty, ruthless, scrabbling for power, scrabbling for money and interested in only one thing – Google.
Example 3 – Amazon
Finally we come to little old Amazon. The signs of an incipient forum ghetto are there to see if you know what to look for (and now you do!)
All I can Say is YUP!, Its Sad, disgusting and all True. And when you push them they love to say ” Well Maybe selling on Amazon is not for you ! ” Again, other than this forum we all need a Place to rate Amazon’s performace with its merchants.
I am so upset right now. I have cases that been opened since Jan and that have not been responded to since March 1st. I have commented on them 3-4 times since the last response from a TAM person. It appears Amazon is doing everything possible to not give us the money due us. Even on cases where FBA has admitted on here that the mistake was totally on their end, TAM still will not give me 1 penny.
…. Actually with sales and FBA fees in 08 I gave Amazon over $800k in fees. Yea, you would definitely think that would earn me a little better treatment than this.
(updated Fri Jan 28th 2011 at 1:30 am)