When it comes to user experience, Amazon really is the strangest of beasts. Take a few minutes to check out the website with a fresh eye (which is more difficult than you think) and you’ll find that the website is actually quite poor in many respects. The Information Architecture is practically non-existent; all the categories and sub-categories are filed chaotically under one central menu (which may as well be labelled ‘stuff’) making casual browsing and discovery pretty much impossible. Similarly, the website has never been on the cutting edge of aesthetically appealing design, nor I suspect will it ever be. No, where Amazon excels is in it’s familiarity and, ever increasingly, it’s convenience.
The Brilliance of Amazon’s UX
The brilliance of Amazon’s user experience stems from their ability to reduce friction in the reordering process. In UX terms, friction is a term used to describe those sticky moments and potential pain points that crop up when using a site. More often than not when a site becomes too frustrating we’ll just abandon ship; coming up with innovative and creative solutions to lessen these points of friction and creating a smoother, less inhibited experience for the user is pretty much UX in a nutshell (albeit a slightly simplified nutshell, but I digress).
While the sign up process itself is pretty straight forward, your first time through the seven stages of the checkout (yup, go count ‘em) can seem arduous. But the devil is in the storing of the details and it all becomes worthwhile by the time your second purchase rolls around. You see, Amazon know that the real rewards for both parties lie in customer retention. In exchange for a little bit of effort upfront (which, since we all signed up for an account years ago, we probably don’t remember anyway), Amazon rewards you with a painless returning visit every time.
This is perfectly demonstrated in their 1-Click order system, which has been around for a while but it’s still worth marvelling at the ease of use this feature creates. Ordering using this method means the process of purchasing a product is so fast, you barely even have time to register you’ve parted with your money before you’re sitting there staring at a confirmation email wondering how on earth you got there so fast; did you really even spend any money at all? Nowhere is this more apparent than when purchasing ebooks, where the messaging takes full advantage of a customer’s impatient nature; ‘start reading in under a minute’.
This phrasing is key; the instantaneous nature of Amazon’s process coupled with that urgent tone of voice plays straight into the hands of that very human need to eat the marshmallow right now.
No other e-commerce company has managed to nail this process quite like Amazon. The only online retailer that comes even close is ASOS, who also take full advantage of previously stored details and next day delivery in exchange for a fixed yearly fee.
The Next Steps
The introduction of Amazon Dash, launched on April Fool’s Day to the confusion of many, is simply the next step in reducing the amount of friction a customer comes up against when ordering online. Looking at how it works, it seems that it is more or less a physical extension of the way in which the existing e-commerce platform already works; do a little bit of extra leg work to set things up first time around, in exchange for effortless reordering every time after. It’s still ordering at the click — or in this case push — of a button, but now you don’t even need to fire up your web browser.
It doesn’t stop there either. With plans to eventually roll this out in conjunction with other branded smart products as part of the Dash Replenishment Service (DRS), it’s clear that Amazon are intent on taking virtually all the friction and thought out of the shopping process. For now, their focus is the everyday essentials in life, but knowing Amazon they probably have a wealth of ideas (and drones) up their sleeves.
One conceivable problem that Amazon could create for themselves is that as the process becomes quicker and easier, our tolerance levels decrease, thus increasing the chance of unhappy customers if things go wrong or expectations run too high.
For now though, Amazon continue to push forward our definitions of convenience. Whatever you may think of what this all means in the wider context of consumerism, they are mastering the art of a frictionless purchase path and — from a UX perspective at least — that is worth applauding.