If everybody at Amazon works so hard, why does the site still looks like it is 2003?

Fear.

Amazon is like that because of fear.

They should have changed it a long time ago.

This is a mess:

Amazon’s product cards are messy.

  • The titles include every single detail you need to know about the product. Is it AEO (Amazon Engine Optimization)?
  • By Motorola (Motorola Moto is by Motorola?! Thanks, cap)
  • It lists 3 prices for each phone. And three of them are the same.
  • There are two different places that lead you to additional purchasing options.
  • The shipping info is also spread over two different areas
  • There are like 5 combinations of font and decoration
  • The Prime logo is just ugly

Okay, so the last point might just be my own personal opinion. But don’t get me wrong, I agree with a lot of what people say who defend Amazon’s [possibly out of date] design.

  • Priority of function, not form
  • They put tons of stuff on every page
  • Users are used to this website
  • They should support IE

…and yet, they’re still long past due for an update.
Any designer who spends at least a half hour could come up with something like this:

amazon ui ux redesign

My quick redesign of the product card groups the information (product details, price, shipping). Also, I tried to make it clear, how exactly shipping works for Prime members and non-members. Finally, I’ve used more contemporary graphics by Icons8; here we go with all the icons used in this mockup.

u how to make a design look good.

A good design is a combination of:

  • UI patterns
  • Good graphic design
  • Usability heuristics
  • Usability testing
  • A/B testing, etc.

In fact, it’s easy to spot a design that was tested excessively but failed to develop in other directions. Why is this so?
How does revision after usability testing work:

  1. During the usability session you see a user failing to find a button (or a link, or something)
  2. You check where he was looking for it.
  3. You add this button and call it a day. You don’t want to rework everything, because you’ll add more usability errors and have to test everything from scratch, rework the HTML, perform testing, etc. Who wants all that extra work?

Years of “usability patching” makes the design become cluttered, heavy, and wordy. You can usually spot that as well. As an example, take a look at ethn.io, — ironically, a tool for usability testing (otherwise it’s great; I use it).

ethnio ux ui

An example of an interface that evolved with multiple iterations of usability testing and fixing. If you look closely, it’s a simple property sheet of 11 and a link. Nevertheless, it has 17 navigation items.

How to deal with that? Dear Amazon, have some balls and redesign it once in awhile.

But wait, Amazon is great.

I love Amazon too. Amazon’s overall UX is great. As Jacob Nielsen pointed out in 2005:

  • Fulfillment. When you buy something, you get it.
  • Login screen. Amazon’s sign-in screen remains a model to be emulated.
  • Relevant cross-sales. “Customers who bought this book also bought” continues to be a stellar approach to cross-selling.
  • Sample content. Amazon does this well with book excerpts and music snippets.
  • Comprehensive product selection. Amazon lays claim to “earth’s biggest selection” and for once, a company actually lives up to its slogan.

In the same article, Nielsen lists what is bad. Number one in the list? Cluttered pages.

Amazon’s product pages are littered with extraneous features, ranging from a “Gold Box” over a “wish list spree” to promotions for reading glasses and other irrelevant products. A single book page I analyzed contained 259 links and buttons. It was so cluttered that key product information — like publication date, page count, and average review rating — was three screensfulls below the fold (on a standard 1024 x 768 screen). Cluttered pages might work for Amazon because its users are typically long-time customers who know the features and can easily screen them out. Although first-time visitors are no doubt overwhelmed, by now they account for a tiny percentage of Amazon’s revenues.

Amazon doesn’t write long titles. Sellers provide them

We agree that the title is provided by the seller. We disagree on how Amazon should treat it.

Amazon should moderate the titles. They have a whole service called Mechanical Turk for that.

I used to buy phones on Amazon. But not anymore. The usability is horrible, the same models appear over and over again, and you have to compare them manually. There’s a ton they could do to make it clean and structured.

We have the same problem ourselves. We’re a tiny company compared to Amazon, and we have 46,000 items to name, group, tag, and search.

It’s a huge project if you ask me. We’ve used and continue to use a combination of methods:

  • We used to submit the tasks to the Mechanical Turk automatically
  • We have a freelancer who tags the new icons every day
  • We used to clean up the tags once, dividing them among the members of our Scrum team. We even wrote a special tool with an automatic thesaurus to do that, yet this task is daunting. I felt completely drained of energy after a couple of hours
  • We have the statistics of the searches (the analytics tool costs $4000/month), and we manually clean the search results for top 1000 searches
  • We’re testing the robust algorithms for automated sorting. These algorithms employ millions of tagged data items crawled on the web. They use computer vision; which we had to write it from scratch

The result? All icons are sorted by name, category, subcategory, style, and tag:

category icons animal

On Icons8, all icons are sorted by name, category, subcategory, style, and tags.

There’s a single “Flying Stork With Bundle” (the last line on the screenshot).

There’s no “Flying stork with the baby icon, flat, color, 48x48px, free download in SVG, PNG” and multiple entries like that.

If we could do it, Amazon can do it. They should have a single Motorola Moto G item, not “Moto G (4th Generation) – Black – 16 GB – Unlocked – Prime Exclusive – with Lockscreen Offers & Ads” and multiple entries like that.

Ok, but how does Amazon know what to put in your new title text and your new description text? Amazon is a marketplace, and the seller controls that.

They should.

  1. They should give the sellers the proper tools (like a combobox which suggests the smartphone models that are already present in the system)
  2. They should give sellers the opportunity to add a new model only if it’s missing.
  3. They should enforce this, moderating and merging the duplicates.

It’s simple with smartphones. There’s

  • A limited number of the models and configurations
  • A relatively small number of sellers

Google Photos had a much harder time organizing my photos:

google photo ui ux

It’s easy for Amazon, to organize the cellphones and sellers. It’s way, way harder for Google Photos to organize my photo library.

Example of a Well Organized Marketplace

I’m sorry I’ve tortured you guys with the screenshots in Spanish and German. Here’s a pretty structured marketplace in Russian:

mobile-phones-rus-ux-ui

A marketplace that organizes the products well. Have a look at carefully selected product characteristics. Unlike Amazon, it says if the phone has a memory extension slot (useful for all), while Amazon lists a processor (which says nothing to all but experts).

A marketplace that organizes the products well. Have a look at carefully selected product characteristics. Unlike Amazon, it says if the phone has a memory extension slot (useful for all), while Amazon lists a processor (which means nothing to anyone except for experts).

Update 2: I spent a half hour adjusting the sketch based on your feedback. Here’s the original design I used in the first version of this answer.

Update 3: Bonnie Foley-Wong made an excellent point about why confusing can be good for retail.

Ivan Braun’s answer to why Amazon’s website is designed the way it is designed is epic. I checked out Icons8’s website too – it’s beautiful! Which brought to mind some interesting findings by the founders of Textio. Before developing their technology to analyze language in the recruitment process, they analyzed Kickstarter projects and looked for correlations between successful campaigns and the words and images in the campaigns.

If you’re a designer, you may want to look away now.
ransom note style

Kickstarter projects with long text and a variety of font styles correlated with success. Textio CEO mentions their early project in an a16z podcast.
As Pascal Morimacil notes, “Confusing websites can actually increase sales.”
So although good, clean design can guide a customer through a website intuitively, a confusing website may scramble enough emotional signals to lead to more purchases (and maybe buyer’s remorse as well).

Update 4: I appreciate the comment from Yuriy Zaremba, a designer at Amazon, who shares his experience:

Looks nice, but would fail A/B tests for several reasons. How do I know? I design for Amazon.
I won’t do a deep-dive, but for starters-

  • Product title contrast lowered- you’ve now sold less product
  • Star rating outline lost and contrast lowered- your poor vision customers now can’t tell a good rating from a bad one- so you’ve sold even less product
  • You took the most important thing about the product, the fact that it’s Prime, and de-emphasized it- so you’ve sold way less
  • You’ve changed treatment of text explaining there are multiple options to some abstract circles that are not clear affordances. My mom wouldn’t know what those mean. She wanted it in white but only saw this as black- you now lost her as a customer.

I can go on and on, but just because the UI is pretty doesn’t mean you’re communicating effectively or building trust with your customer.

Thanks, mate. We agree on all the problems of my mockup. Moreover, what you said is easy to fix.

However, there’s another difficult question. Is Amazon the gold standard?

I don’t know how it is, but I’ve read

  • Your answer
  • Your updated answer
  • Your comment to my answer.

What I hear is: Amazon tests a lot, therefore it knows better. I can’t agree with that.
I know how it feels when your clients offer help. At Icons8, many features and improvements were proposed by our customers and our community.
To name a few:

    • Two tabs you see on the right, icons and collections. It feels obvious now, but at the time I struggled to fit it all onto the screen. It was suggested by a guy from the UK when we chatted after a usability testing session.
collections tabs icon
    • Used icons in our Mac and Windows apps. We also transferred this feature to our web app. This was suggested by a Belgian UX designer, also after I asked for her opinion after testing a new feature.
dusk icon style
    • A Russian designer offered to redraw our Pricing section. His work was amazingly clean. It was after we took iStock as an example and twisted it for about an year, testing and A/B testing across different countries (sorry Australia, you suffered the most).
pricing icons8 ui feature
    • Our Belarusian friend who used to create the design of Icons8 sent us a quick Sketch mockup for the search bar (for free, just because he cares). I just finished coding it; we release it soon.
search ui
And we have a lot of insight from our problem-seeking sessions, when we ask people via Intercom about a design problem they have (not only on our website).

A developer from Venezuela said she hates starting Photoshop for simple edits – we’ve created our effects for her.

And we’ve done one extra step creating omg-img, so she doesn’t have to run our web app either.
The website, the community — together we create the wonderful things.

Check my other “longread”: While I Was Redesigning a Boarding Pass, Paper Got Old


About the Author
Ivan is a founder of Icons8. He got his first job after drawing a banner with CTR of 43%. After years of creating icons, he specializes in rapid prototyping and backlog grooming.