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Review of Amazon.com’s eCommerce Platform

October 27th, 2009 Sandeep Walia No comments

Review of Amazon.com

By Sandeep Walia

Amazon has and continues to be at the vanguard of online retail. While it started as a store that focused primarily on books and music, Amazon quickly expanded to other segments and now sells products in nearly every segment – apparel, home improvement, groceries. In addition, Amazon has expanded from a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) only store to a mixed model with its corporate account functionality that focuses on business buyers.  Added to the mix, is the Amazon marketplace – Amazon's answer to eBay- which allows merchants to list their products and customers to purchase from merchants while using Amazon's eCommerce platform.

 Amazon started with a store that was fairly feature-rich for its time and has gone on to strengthen that foundation. Today, it probably ranks as the leader in terms of the richness of its e-Commerce features. As a provider of eCommerce software to mid-market, we use Amazon as a reference for the features it has on the web store. Some of these features not easily found on other sites include the ‘1-Click Ordering’, ‘Customer Viewing’, ‘Recently Viewed Products’, ‘Keyword Auto-fill’ on the product search, ‘Your Personalized Store’, and ‘Items to Consider’. While some of these features are relatively easy to implement e.g. ‘1-click Ordering’, others are not so easy and require an advanced platform. For example, the ‘Customers Viewing’ this product ultimately bought, requires the eCommerce platform to track and record the click path of a customer from the product page they are viewing to what they finally buy and keeping a record of that, analyzing it and then serving up the aggregated results on an individualized basis. The feature will give information such as – of the customers who viewed this product 48% bought this product itself, 35% bought product B, 20% bought product C etc.  Similarly the ‘Items to Consider’ is not a generic recommendation of specials but provides personalized recommendations based on your browsing history. Inspired by your Shopping Trends makes recommendations on products based on the type of products you purchase. For example, if you buy self-improvement books Amazon will make several recommendations on other self-improvement books. This same theme of personalized recommendations extends throughout the site with other similar recommendation sub-groups like Frequently Bought with Items in Your Wish List, Customers with Similar Searches Purchased etc.  This takes significant analytical infrastructure behind the scenes and Amazon has done a very good job of ensuring it has all the underpinnings required to make strong and very logical recommendations.  

The richness of the content on a product detail page is absolutely amazing. Not only can customers view product images uploaded by Amazon but other customers can upload images and include relevant content to that.  I was purchasing a flat panel TV and was looking to wall-mount it. A customer uploaded image showed how he had wall-mounted the TV and what wall-mount he had used – also available on Amazon for less than $25. Very useful information that helped seal the deal for Amazon.  The quality of the customer reviews is better than just about any other eCommerce site. Not only can customers post a review (which most sites offer) but other users can vote on the usefulness of the review. Some reviewers have actually built their following on Amazon.com with good quality reviews. Even when shopping at another store, I find myself going to Amazon.com to see the user feedback on the product.  Other examples of rich content are user-specified tags and the ability to preview a book without purchasing – bringing the “browsing a book at Borders” experience in home.

On the flip side, Amazon seems to not have kept up with the Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 user interface improvements and for most part still incorporates Web 1.0 technology which means – you still need a mouse click to view a product as opposed to being able to see product details with a mouse roll-over.  Amazon could use a make-over to make for a snazzier shopping experience. 

The multitude of personalized recommendations is a double edged sword as this can get a little overwhelming for the unsophisticated buyer. A typical product page is never-ending and you can keep doing a vertical scroll down and keep getting more products.  There is almost a need for a simpler version for those that just want to just do a product purchase for a specific product or is not looking for a lot of information. I am a high-volume Amazon shopper and love all the personalized recommendations and all the great content available – but I've also seen many unsophisticated buyers get confused by the Amazon site and often clicking on a different product from what they set out to buy and then abandoning the purchase altogether as a result.

Along the same lines the Amazon marketplace can make it a little confusing to the purchaser as to whom you are buying from. Very often customers buy a marketplace item thinking it is being purchased from Amazon while in fact it is being sold by a third party. While Amazon does call out the fact that it is a merchant – it is woven in so well into the site that it is easy to miss and can lead to a confusing customer experience.

Amazon still leads the way in terms of product breadth, feature richness, personalized recommendations and depth of content available across eCommerce sites.  However, there is a need for Amazon to offer a simplified and hipper shopping experience as an alternative which many other sites now offer.

What’s Good

  • Rich shopping features
  • Strong  analytics for product recommendations
  • High quality content and very detailed product descriptions
  • User generated reviews and usefulness ratings of reviews

 

What’s Not So Good

  • Older navigation technology for searching or viewing product information
  • Shoppers can become overwhelmed with too much product information
  • Not novice friendly

 

Sandeep Walia is the President & CEO of Ignify, a leading provider of e-commerce, CRM and ERP solutions targeting the medium and large enterprise market segments.  For more information, please visit the Ignify website