A thought on Amazon’s new product page design

Amazon has designed themselves into a Local Maximum but mobile and tablet use will help get them out of it.

I just went to Amazon.com and noticed that I was viewing a newly-designed product page. My first thought was “Finally, they got an actual UI designer over there”. But my second thought was “It’s still got way too much going on.”

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For some reason everyone thinks Amazon is the pinnacle of design because there is some legend from years ago that caught on about how Amazon tests all of their pages better than anyone. They know exactly what works and what doesn’t so what is there works better than anything else.

The reality is that Amazon has designed themselves into a Local Maximum. They’ve tested and tweaked the same product page over and over and they’ve optimized it as much as possible. They can’t improve it significantly at this point without making a big change. But they can’t make a big change because the only changes they can make must increase revenue (or some closely related KPI). So any big change is a very, very scary thing when that page is driving billions of dollars in revenue. So it makes sense that Amazon only makes small changes to their product page design.

If Amazon were to make a big change, like for example do some actual visual design so everything didn’t have the same visual weight, the mere shock of the change would probably send their revenue downward, at least initially. People dislike change because change is work. They have to figure out what changed, adapt to it, relearn the UI, and still try to get their job done (they one they used to know how to do). So the next time you hear “People hate change” think to yourself “People don’t hate change. They hate the work of change”.

But…humans do like change when it makes their lives easier…the challenge is to keep people in control of when change happens to them. That’s really all people need, is control over the situation.

In Amazon’s current model a revenue drop would not be acceptable. But I think it’s pretty clear that mobile and tablet use is going to change the game here. Amazon’s current product pages are OK on mobile, they’ve clearly gone away from their super long product pages there. My guess is that what Amazon learns on mobile will translate back into their big screen product pages, which will continue to look like crap (and thus be confusing) if they don’t start looking like the mobile pages. A consistent experience across devices will trump a product page optimized for years ago.

Published: August 25th, 2013

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