Amazon has been around for ever. It has revolutionised the online shopping experience and has now become a behemoth amongst online retailers.

Amazon clearly do many things really well, but is there website as good as it could be? How does a website which has been around since the dawn of online retailing stack up in the modern world?

Amazon in 2017… Amazon day!

I appear to be visiting Amazon on the first of there annual “Primedays”. Amazon Prime is a funny thing, I recall when it started it was just a way to get your items delivered with no shippings costs, faster. Nowadays it’s a service gunning to compete with Netflix, Apple Music and Google amongst others. Amazon is no longer just an online retailer, it now aims to provide a full online entertainment experience streamed down to any platform you require.

Because of the plethora of services that the Amazon site offers, it must be incredibly difficult for the site to cater for all your possible needs. Are you wanting to stream a movie? Buy a packet of soap powder? download music track or even buy a book?

Traditionally a site has a navigation along the top, to guide you easily to the place you need to go. It’s what we as users traditionally go to when we first go to a site. 10 years ago in 2007 the Amazon site looked like this:

Amazon, way back in 2007

Even 10 years ago, we can see that Amazon’s product line has expanded to such an extent that it would fill most browser windows at the time (bearing in mind that the iPhone only just came out this year). There is also a basic looking side navigation, which appears to replicate the top navigation but with additional items added. It’s not entirely clear what the difference is.

Lets fast forward to today again. That multi-tabbed navigation is no more. The visitor from 2007 would probably not know what to click on. What we have instead of the top-navigation is a “Hamburger”. Usually we are used to seeing these navigation links on our mobiles. They act as a graphical shortcut, when your screen size is too small to show all the links. I’m looking at this site on a desktop, but still Amazon have given up on the idea of displaying all of the navigation items they have. Now I am looking at this on quite a large browser size, so how many navigation items can they possibly have? Lets see…

Lots of navigation

If I hover over the “hamburger”, I get quite a neat looking drop-down navigation, with departments listed, together with a sub nav for each item. This is not a full list, to get everything click on the hamburger (or click all departments at the bottom) and you’ll get a humongous list which fills the entire page (and more). Now, much has been said about hamburger navigations. In many cases they have been shown not to work as well as a traditional nav, with items clearly laid out and not hidden from view. So this is not really ideal, but with so many products on offer, its tricky to think of a solution that will work. Which is why the main way of getting around the site now, is probably via the search bar.

The all encompassing, Amazon search bar

Amazon have acknowledged this by putting the search bar in a prominent position along the top. Clearly they are now just prompting you to search the site for what you want. Back in 2007 there wasn’t even a navigation visible. You had to scroll right down to the bottom of the page to find it. Clearly they didn’t really want you to use it back then, preferring you to browse to the item you wanted. Now the opposite is true. The search is now what Amazon guide you to, as a main means of navigation. The navigation menu is now reduced down to a small icon. Perhaps this makes sense for a site as big as amazon, to navigate to an individual item on a site of Amazons magnitude could be like trying to find a needle in a hatystack. If the search is effective (and Amazons does work well), then this is the most effective method.