March 14, 2013, 3:18 PM
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What you can learn from Amazon

Guy Mucklow

CEO, Postcode Anywhere

Surprise, surprise! Amazon has come top of the American Customer Satisfaction Index for the fourth consecutive year in a row, scoring an impressive 85% and setting the bar for online retailers everywhere.

Since 1995, Amazon has established itself as the world's leader in e-commerce. Its success is not a fluke, nor is it merely the result of being in the right place at the right time. Amazon's success is the direct result of a strong user shopping experience.

So why is Amazon doing so well when all we hear from the high street is doom and gloom?

For anyone who has shopped on the site recently it is obvious: the huge selection of items, the easy checkout process and speedy delivery makes shopping on Amazon both an easy and pleasurable shopping experience. Even with their notoriously-cluttered website, Amazon does all the important things right, over and over. So what can other online merchants learn from Amazon's success to get their share of the e-commerce pie?

Product range

The main selling point of Amazon is the enormous product range. There are products of almost every brand and model in every category. The core product range has a very simple message; if you're looking for books or DVDs, we've almost always got it. More often than not Amazon's prices are also much lower than those of other online retailers and almost always lower than those of the offline ones.

Simple sign-up

Amazon's sign-in process still remains a model to be emulated. In order to register a new account, Amazon presents two questions in a linear order: "My name is' and 'my e-mail address is'. Bombarding your customers with multiple questions is an obstacle that will stop your shoppers like a concrete wall. I know this because I often leave sites that require me to register.

People don't want to have to remember a password or feel like they're being tied into a company when they just want to buy a book – after all you wouldn't make a customer sign-up in a regular store, would you?

Personalise

Amazon's famous for personalizing the shopping experience of registered and non-registered users alike on the web. The site uses cookies to keep a user logged in, and that user's shopping habits are tracked and stored server-side in order to populate their home page with items they've looked at and might be interested in buying.

This is a great enhancement, because it dynamically customises the user's experience based on previous searches, page views, wish-list additions, written reviews and, ultimately, purchases.

Have you ever seen a convenience store without gum at the counter? The strategy here is to offer and sell items to shoppers that they didn't even know they wanted when they entered the store. The same rules apply to e-commerce.

"Customers who bought this book also bought" continues to be an astral approach to cross-selling. It almost always drags up other relevant products that the customer is likely to want. This increases the likelihood that the user will make the purchase, and ultimately helps to speed up the purchasing process. The whole site is engineered to give the shopper a rich and personalized shopping experience. Another huge tick for Amazon!

Reassurance

Confirmation emails are a great way of building trust in the overall fulfilment process, and for ensuring simple mistakes like choosing the wrong size or colour can be corrected. Many online retailers find themselves so focused on checkout process that they often forget about the opportunities that arise beyond the sale. Think about when you go to the supermarket. You hand over the money and immediately are given your products and a receipt. These are physical reassurances that your transaction is complete and you can go home happy. Reassure customers that the order went through and ease their anxiety by immediately confirming their purchases.

Focus on fulfilment

When you buy something with Amazon, you get it. In the rare case that there is a problem, you get a clear e-mail telling you so. Knowing that the book you ordered will be on your doorstep by Friday solves for the instant gratification problem that often plagues e-commerce. Of course, that's the way online shopping should be, but all too often it's not when you shop on other sites. Amazon's undivided focus on fulfilment clearly proves that the total user experience goes far beyond the user interface.

Provide reviews

Customer reviews are a well proven sales tool. People are turning to reviews to see what others have experienced. They want to know if they can trust the company to spend their hard–earned pounds. And it's great for your SEO too. We've noticed as few as four reviews having a positive impact on organic search ratings. Amazon's inclusion of detailed descriptions, videos, and reviews are all there for shoppers who need more information before pulling the trigger.

Applying these principles will ensure that your online store delivers a rewarding experience to the buyer and a good bottom line to the seller. Of course, Amazon is by no means perfect—no e-commerce store is. It has its own set of problems—but we'll save that for another post!

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