September 30, 2011, 12:00 AM

Amazon's new tablet-friendly site design emphasizes simple search and navigation

Amazon's new tablet-friendly site design emphasizes simple search and navigation.

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Long a leader of innovation in e-commerce, Inc. has always had one weak point that might be expected of an online mass merchant: its home page has been rather cluttered.

But now that's about to change, as Amazon began rolling out last month a new site design that reduces clutter and is easier to use for consumers shopping on iPads and other tablet computers. Other retailers will want to take note of the focus on tablets, experts say.

"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 optimizing for tablets, you better 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 also made the search box larger and deemphasized the previous "shop by department" navigation option by consigning it to a pull-down menu.

Roughly 80% of Amazon customers use the site's search bar to find products, says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., which helps online merchants sell through search engines, comparison shopping sites and online marketplaces. "Amazon has enlarged the search bar 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 to look its best and function its best on that tablet," says Judy Foster, executive creative director of design firm Grand River Interactive. Experts add that such designs will also work well on other devices like laptops or desktop computers.

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.

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.

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