Six great information lessons from

July 12, 2011


Amazon were one of the first truly online retailers and you can still learn a lot from looking at their site.  These days, the product lines are vast and the site seems sprawling, but the core information display is still golden.  Here are five things that I think Amazon does brilliantly, and some tips on how to apply these in your own context.

Amazon listing

1. The ‘Look Inside’ feature

The Number One problem of any online retailer is giving people a real sense of the product from a distance. In a real life bookshop, customers pick a book up and flick through the pages to help decide whether to buy it or not.  Amazon’s online solution is to give you a flavour of the whole, through sample pages, front and back pages, contents and index. You can argue about how well they do that (personally, I’d rather have a couple more sample pages than the ISBN number), but they do it.

Action: You probably know how your people think.  Are you ignoring some of the things they want?  Can you give them the things that make buying a no-brainer? If not, why not?

2. One-click purchase

Aargh, so tempting, especially late at night.  People buy on impulse. Or, they just know exactly what they want.  Taking the buying experience from a 10-minute mortgage application process to a single click is genius. We all want it (and fear it).

Action: Make it easy to buy, or sign up, or whatever. Make it secure but make it simple, so that people can breeze through your systems.

3. ‘What do customers ultimately buy?’

I love this feature, which tells you what the people who viewed the page ended up buying.   It’s an odd little feature, but I read it as a kind of crowdsourced wisdom about the strength of the product.  How convinced were other people? Did they go straight for this option, or did they look elsewhere? 93% for The Perfect Puppy? Got to be a good decision.

Action: There’s several ways to use this kind of feature. First, do you know what options your customers dither between? Second, are you collecting  any complicated information that might be helpful to future customers? Can you package it in a way that would be useful?

4. ‘Customers who bought Product X also bought products W, Y and Z.’

Let’s say I’m going on a camping trip and I search Amazon for sleeping bags.  This feature will alert me to a reasonably sensible selection of the other things I might need – sleeping mat, camping stove, torches, cutlery, you name it.  It stimulates a little bit of mission creep, noodling around to find alternatives.

The nice thing about this feature is that it seems to line up the right products.  It doesn’t seem to work so well for fiction, but it’s great when searching for technical books and physical products.

Action: If you don’t have an expensive algorithm, simply put together the things that go together.  However, there are plenty of neat algorithms and plugins that will do the work for you – for example, Linkwithin, a WordPress plugin, searches for similar posts and keeps people discovering more of your content.

5. Live stock information (Only 2 left – order soon)

This is detailed, helpful stock information which generates proper urgency (if there’s only two left) or a wider search.  Very basic and very helpful.  Avoiding disappointment through clarity.

Action: If you’re likely to run out of something, let prospective customers know.  Shy about the numbers (56 unsold widgets?) – just let people know when it’s near to selling out.

6. Customer reviews

Amazon’s customer reviews are the business – typically detailed and lush as well as providing simple star ratings.  I have a lot more I can say about these, but for this post  I’ll just say that reviews provide enough information about the product (and often the reviewer) for customers to feel that they can make the right decision.

Action: Use customer feedback – for research, testimonials, proof of concept, whatever.  A good review isn’t just a piece of information, it builds your brand and your community.

Overall, think about your market and how people buy what you have to sell (or find what you have to offer).

  • Are you making it easy enough for people?
  • Do you make the process transparent, letting the customer really look at what you have to offer?
  • And is there a way of bringing your customer into the process more fully, so that they become a collaborator as well as a target?

Thoughts as always very welcome.  I offer real live consultancy, too, if you need some help thinking these things through.

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