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Amazon.com continually raises the bar for online retailers.

That success is no accident. Every change made to the site is tested, every move researched through focus groups, user testing, and strategic analysis--all of which is great news for you, the online retailer; it's like having a million dollar consultant by your side as you grow.

For example, when Amazon partnered with CDNow, they revamped CDNow's look and feel so that it mirrored Amazon.com's to a T. The CDNow look was scrapped altogether; stop by their sites, Amazon.com & CDNow.com, you'll see. The two site designs are so identical that it seems like CDNow is one step away from renaming the site CDamazon.com!

Why Did Amazon Completely Scrap the CDNow Design?

Amazon knows that their site is designed in a way that works, and works as well or better than any other online retailer.

How do they know it works? They test and analyze the impact of even the smallest changes. They even have dedicated user experience and web metrics teams. Your company may not have the ability to have entire teams dedicated to these important site functions, but the result of Amazon's hard work, at optimizing user experience and analyzing what works, is culminated in the design of their site, for all to see.

While I don't recommend you create an Amazon/CDNow version of your site, I do recommend that you stay aware of what Amazon is doing--some of the changes made to their site may be useful for yours.

Leverage Amazon's R&D for Your Site

It's a common strategy: Go where the big guys go, do what the big guys do.

When the largest fast food chain began taking its franchise around the world, the No. 2 chain started popping up in the same towns; you can witness an identical phenomena happening now with the large pharmacy chain stores.

For online retailers, Amazon can work in a similar fashion. Amazon.com gets enough visitors to its site in 10 minutes to determine if some "new things" will work or not, making it a great place to learn.

Online retailers, pull up your seats, get a pen and pad. Amazon.com is an online classroom on Internet marketing and strategy.

Try this: Visit Amazon once a month, take notes on where certain items are placed throughout the site. Some have not moved for years, while others may move every few weeks. The items that don't move are an indication that Amazon has tested and knows that a specific area is optimal for a web site item.

If an item moves around, that is a signal that Amazon is not sure where the best location for an item is, but they are testing it. Pay attention to where a tested item eventually lands.

A recent example of this kind of analysis was the location of the free shipping offer throughout the site. Their homepage rarely changes, but visiting some of their new stores will show their work on new ideas. Those areas are best to notice this kind of testing in action.

Abandonment, A Real Focus

It's likely that most of your customers and prospects have visited and probably bought something at Amazon--so why not make your site work in a fashion your users are accustomed to? This includes your shopping cart and wish list functionality, e-mail marketing, search and special offers too.

Take a second to scrutinize your shopping cart and checkout functions. Amazon has tested here probably more than any other online retailer.

Why? Because purchases are their lifeblood!

Figuring out what makes users move from browsing to purchasing helps them make sales. Do they get it right every time? Absolutely not. Do they have mechanisms in place to know when something is or is not working? Absolutely. Benchmarking is essential! You need to gather statistics on the performance of your web site before you make enhancements.

Abandonment is a huge problem for all online retailers. Abandons are those visitors that start to take a desired action but don't complete it. Do you know your abandon rate? If you did, what would you do to decrease it?

Try this: Make a list of some of the main tasks you want your users to complete or engage in on your site. Then ask your friends, neighbors, or colleagues for about 10 minutes of their time, and watch them try to complete those tasks (i.e. make a purchase, search for an item, put their credit card information in, etc.) and track their responses.

  • Did they find items easily?
  • Did they have a hard time checking out, and buying a product?
  • Were they able to find information about contacting you?

Their answers will tell you if you're on the right path, quickly and easily. Once you have completed such a simple test, the ball is in your court to make changes to your site to make it easier for your users to complete tasks.

The Bottom Line Is Simple: Amazon.Com Is Not a Beautiful Site, But Does What it Is Intended to Do--Sell Products Easily.

Amazon has proven that there is value in trying new things, being customer centric, and analyzing everything. It's that kind of thinking that when applied to your site, will create repeat business and help your bottom line considerably.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wil Reynolds is the founder and head marketing strategist of SEER Interactive (www.thinkseer.com), a search optimization and Web marketing firm located in Philadelphia.