September 9, 2011, 5:09 PM

With its new site, Amazon bets on tablets

The new design of Amazon.com emphasizes the search bar and touch screen capabilities.

Lead Photo

The redesigned e-commerce site that Amazon.com Inc. is slowly rolling out points toward the future of online retailing by emphasizing the search bar and making the site easy to navigate on tablet computers, web site designers and consultants tell Internet Retailer.

“What Amazon’s doing is setting a precedent for what everyone else is going to have to do in a short time,” says Dan Shust, director of emerging media at Resource Interactive, an e-commerce marketing and consulting firm. “It says if you are a retailer and you are not working on it now, you better get on it because a lot more traffic will be coming from these devices in the next six months.”

With its new site, Amazon has given over more of the home page to white space, giving it an almost airy feel. The retailer, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, also made the search box larger and deemphasized the previous “shop by department” navigation option by consigning it to a pull-down menu. The menu changes suggests that Amazon is trying to get consumers to shop more often via the search box rather than through product category links, says Kevin Richards, president of Ventura Web Design.

Roughly 80% of Amazon customers use the site’s search bar to find products, says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, which helps online merchants sell through search engines, comparison shopping sites and online marketplaces. “Amazon has enlarged it in this redesign to encourage that behavior,” he says.

The change suggests that Amazon is preparing itself for the evolution of e-commerce, as typing in a search term is easier than accessing drop-down menus or complicated fly-out navigation bars for consumers who use touch-screen-based mobile devices such as iPads and iPhones, designers say. And with rumors heating up that Amazon soon will release its own tablet computer, it makes sense to make the changes now. “If they do in fact bring out a tablet, Amazon will want Amazon.com to look its best and function its best on that tablet,” says Judy Foster, executive creative director of design firm Grand River Interactive.

The new design also gives over more home page real estate to digitally delivered products and services offered by Amazon. Links to Amazon’s MP3 Store, Instant Video, Kindle Store, Cloud Player, Cloud Drive and Audible Audiobooks products and services appear on the home page as tabs arranged horizontally beneath the search box. This navigation means consumers using touch screens can just tap the department name to get access to products in those categories rather than take two steps to touch the department name and scroll though subcategory options on a fly-out window as the previous design required. By emphasizing these digital products, Amazon is promoting categories that are likely to resonate with a digitally connected audience, Richards says.

At the same time, what works to help consumers accessing the site with touch-screen devices also works fine for consumers accessing the site with laptops or desktop computers, Shust says. He says Amazon appears to have created a site design that will work well on all kinds of devices. “It’s creating a centralized experience that is written correctly for multiple devices, and that basically translates formatting for touch sensibility,” he says.

By having a site suitable for many devices, Shust says, Amazon won’t have to create apps to optimize the buying experience for all consumers using mobile devices. That means consumers who don’t want to find and download an app will still happily shop the site. And that’s important because tablet computer users access the web more with browsers, which take them to conventional web or mobile-optimized sites, than they use mobile apps designed for specific phones or tablets, according to a report this year from Forrester Research Inc. It said 39% of tablet users spend more time using a tablet’s browser than they use apps. Just 16% say they spend more time using apps.

Amazon proves with its moves that optimizing for multiple devices is the next step that we need to go toward,” says Foster. “E-retailers have to ask how their sites are going to look on iPads and phones and all the devices that are coming out.”

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