Amazon’s disappearing search results

Or why Amazon’s ‘sort by’ needs some UX love

As mentioned in my post the other day I moved to Canada recently and now I’m again buying lots of things off Amazon (where else?). Stuff like towels, a shaver and what-not…

I also use Amazon to compare prices and as I saw a very cheap outdoor swing at a Walmart store recently I wanted to check on Amazon to see if they can match the price (spoiler: they can‘t).

Anyway, while trying to find some outdoor swings (or porch swings or whatever names these go by) on Amazon I made a funny discovery.

The default search on Amazon shows products sorted by ‘Relevance’. That makes sense, right? I want to see relevant stuff after all. But then again Amazon seems not very good at showing relevant stuff. So searching for an ‘outdoor swing’ I’m being shown all sorts of things, which are not outdoor swings. Check it out in the screenshot below:

Searching for an outdoor swing on Amazon, sorted by ‘Relevance’.

As you can see, only the very last search result in the initial view (or whatever little you can actually see of it) shows an actual outdoor swing. Don’t be fooled by search result #2 — that’s only a canopy replacement for an outdoor swing.

Now the price of that porch swing at Walmart was so cheap, that I figured sorting by ‘Price: Low to High’ should make it easier, right? Well, not so fast… See how that turned out below:

Searching for an outdoor swing on Amazon, sorted by ‘Price: Low to High’.

So a couple of things suddenly happened:

  • Yes, it’s sorted by price (Wohoo!)
  • Unfortunately none of the results have anything to do with what I was actually searching for, at least for what is visible in the initial screen (Boo!)
  • The number of search results went down from 10,344 to 1,935. (Whaaa?)
  • A disclaimer appeared: “Showing the most relevant results. See all results for outdoor swing.” (You must be kidding…)

Based on this outcome Amazon’s sorting by ‘Price: Low to High’ simply doesn’t work. I mean, yes, whatever is displayed is sorted by price but I’m basically not being shown what I was searching for but more or less random stuff — so not helpful!

And to make it worse Amazon cuts down the results to less than a fifth of the original number of results. Simply stunning.

‘But what about that nice disclaimer’, you’re asking? You’re absolutely right! As mentioned above, Amazon explicitly states there “Showing the most relevant results. See all results for outdoor swing.” Now, do you wonder what happens when you click on it? You are shown this:

After clicking on Amazon’s disclaimer “Showing the most relevant results. See all results for outdoor swing.”

You. Must. Be. Joking.

But seriously, now after clicking on that disclaimer I as the user expected to see all results again. Or at least something meaningful. But what am I shown?

  • 2,271 search results (Huh?)
  • Apparently only apps (Why?)
  • No outdoor swings at all (Uh…)
  • The disclaimer disappeared (…)

I don’t even know what to say. That is soo confusing. Now it’s still way less search results than when sorted by relevance (hint: that was 10,344 search results), I’m not being shown anything relevant although the disclaimer basically promised it, and I can still not find a cheap outdoor swing.

Bottom line

Written while sitting on my outdoor swing bought at Walmart

The user experience here was simply bad. There are so many small things, which could be — and should be — done in a better way. I’m sure investing some more time on the UX side and on Amazon’s search engine would lead to massively improved results (literally), a much better, hassle-free user experience, and Amazon selling more products. Like outdoor swings for example, especially now with the good weather just getting started.

View from my new outdoor swing — in case you’re interested

I reached out to Amazon, CC’ing Amazon’s CTO Werner Vogels but unfortunately haven’t heard anything back (yet).

Asking Amazon and Amazon’s CTO what’s going on with the search results

Before you ask, yes, I used Amazon’s iPhone app to demonstrate this but the experience on the Amazon website is similarly confusing.

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