This is a guest post from Maurice Kindermann, a web developer and designer from Kintek.com.au.

I think we can all agree Amazon.com is a pretty uninspiring website, no revelation there. They were once known for pioneering much of what is now referred to as ‘standards’ in ecommerce. These days, the online giant is looking a little worse for wear. Personally, I’ve been avoiding the website for years because of how unappealing I find it, so when I recently went to buy a Kindle I was not surprised to learn of some major fragmentation and usability problems.

Redesigning Amazon
View original Kindle page   |   Original Post

Brief History

Let me back up a bit, back in the 90′s US websites were notorious for providing very limited or no shipping options to international customers. Even today, American websites that do offer international shipping generally have bloated or unreasonable pricing. Take one look at eBay and you’ll see what I mean. I’m a massive eBay user, and if you live outside of America you may have noticed other countries (especially the UK) are offering very cheap or even free shipping. Given America’s current economic climate, I think it’s extremely important that large corporations like Amazon don’t shaft their international buyers by treating them like second class citizens. If they keep doing an average job, someone will come along with an above average solution and Amazon will be the next Yahoo… There, I said it!

Before I started scrutinizing the Amazon website, I did some research and found a couple of interesting articles. Econsultancy wrote Amazon relying on brand creditibilty instead of good usability. It compares some key usability aspects between Amazon.co.uk and The Book Repository UK. SlashDot also recently reported that Amazon has Tonnes of Fake Reviews.

Amazon’s current design

I own two 22″ monitors that sit side by side. Although I’m not the norm, this makes reading any content on Amazon (or any fluid website, WordPress admin panel included!) a painful experience. Widescreen cinema was invented for the film industry because our eyes move left to right faster than they do up and down, and this causes less eye strain. With this sort of logic you might think wider websites would be easier to read. Well, books are vertical for a reason, and it’s been shown that the ideal paragraph length is between 40 and 60 characters (depending on where you look).

With that in mind you can see what Amazon.com looks like on my monitor followed by what it would look like with two lines of code to give it a max width.

The Code:

body{ max-width:1200px; margin:auto;}

Before:

Redesigning Amazon

After:

Redesigning Amazon

Fragmentation

Nothing is worse. The only discernible difference between the Australian (international) and US version of the Kindle product page is the shipping options and the URL. Technically speaking, there’s no reason why these pages couldn’t be combined to give customers a streamlined buying experience. This was one of the main inspirations behind my redesign and what I tried to illustrate. You’ll see below the steps involved in adding a product to your cart. Personally I think this is unacceptable.

Redesigning Amazon

Content is king, right?

Content certainly is king, but it’s important to restrict the amount of content per page. I did a quick test by copying and pasting the entire Kindle product page into Microsoft Word, and you might fall off your chair at the results. 62 pages, 11,832 words. Obviously Amazon want to make sure you know exactly what you’re buying, but it needs a bit more management. This is what I’ve demonstrated in my design with the “Reviews” section. I’ve turned two massive sections on the page into a humble slideshow. Here is the before and after:

Redesigning Amazon

Ending thoughts

The current Amazon design was implemented back in September of 2007. A lot has happened in the design industry since then, and it’s about time Amazon picked up its game. I’d love to hear what other people think of the Amazon website, especially regular and international buyers.

If you’re interested in reading the full article which details the process and terrible international usability I documented when buying the Kindle, it can be found here.

Copyright © 2010 Maurice Kindermann