Learning From Amazon: How To Improve The Ecommerce Customer Experience

Amazon.com is the leading ecommerce retailer in the United States, generating a whopping $67.9 billion in revenue in 2013. Most people choose Amazon because of their low prices, but what if I told you that prices weren’t the sole contributor to their success?

What if I told you that, in fact, it had more to do with their ecommerce customer experience?

The rise of the internet fostered a growth in the number of speciality ecommerce retailers. If you’re looking for a pair of Calvin Klein boxers, there are now hundreds of websites that you can go to and buy this product.

Recently, I needed to make an online purchase and immediately went to Amazon.com. That got me thinking – why did I automatically choose Amazon?

Was it because I knew their prices were competitive? Was it because I knew they had a large range of products? Was it because they offered free two-day shipping with an Amazon Prime membership? Or was it because I knew they would have a lot of product reviews?

This really got me thinking. Why do millions of Americans and customers from around the world buy from Amazon? It’s like they have this competitive advantage that no other ecommerce retailer has.

It couldn’t simply come down to the price, could it?

Price isn’t the sole reason you and millions of others shop at Amazon. You do it because they offer the best ecommerce customer experience.

The following is a discussion of five ways Amazon creates an amazing experience that compels you to be a loyal customer, make repeat purchases and tell all your friends about it. Take note of these ideas and see how you can apply them to your own ecommerce business.


1. Personalized emails

Personalizing your email marketing will help improve its performance and ensure you add more value and are more useful to your customers. Personalized emails work better because they are tailored to the individual needs of the customer, meaning they are more relevant. This increases the likelihood that they will be opened, read and clicked on.

Amazon uses personalized emails particularly well. In fact, they have three emails that I like and you should consider using:

Cart abandonment emails: These emails are sent to customers that have added a product to their shopping cart but not yet completed the transaction. A friendly email reminder is triggered and sent within a couple of hours that shows the customer the item they have in their cart and suggests some other options, too. Check out the email I received after I searched for and placed in my cart a pair of sports shorts:


Special offer emails tailored to a customer’s interest: Amazon uses data collected from a customer’s shopping history to send specific offers tailored to their interests. For example, I was shopping for a new Dell laptop and checked Amazon for the prices. One week later I received this special offer via email:


Transactional emails: These emails are generally “thank you” messages sent after a customer purchases a product and offer personalized product recommendations. According to ExactTarget’s recent Retail Touchpoints Optimized report, typical transactional emails are opened 70-80% of the time. This offers a tremendous opportunity to catch buyers while they’re shopping and send a personalized offer.


2. Self-service support

According to a study by Forrester, 72% of customers prefer to use self-service support to find answers to their questions, rather than phone or email support.

For your ecommerce business, this means offering comprehensive information about your products on your website. This could be in the form of detailed and accurate product information, a wide range of product photos and/or real reviews from customers.

Gregory Ciotti, marketer at Help Scout, suggests you have a knowledge base or collection of FAQ-style articles that address common problems your customers might encounter. Gregory says this will “decrease the amount of tickets you receive, and increases the amount of happy customers, as they now have the option to solve small difficulties on their own.”

Amazon exceeds customer expectations by offering a wide range of information that helps its customers find answers to their questions themselves. Nearly all products sold by Amazon have a detailed product description that is full of information – often information you can’t even find on the manufacturer’s own website. You can also find real reviews from customers that go into detail about the pros, cons and use cases for the product. Finally, there are plenty of images – both directly from the manufacturer and uploaded by customers. The combination of these three elements gives customers a stronger sense of trust with the Amazon brand. They know what to expect when buying from Amazon, which makes the purchase easier to justify.


Think about it. As a customer, if you know that Amazon provides the best product information, reviews and images, why buy from anywhere else?


3. Fast site performance and easy, smart site usability

A good ecommerce customer experience needs a fast page load time. A study by Radware found that for each second your page takes to load, customer satisfaction drops 7%. Most of your visitors will expect your site to load in less than three seconds. If it takes longer than that, you risk not meeting customer expectations and potentially losing business.

Amazon offers a superior experience when it comes to site load time. The company has invested heavily in their own infrastructure to ensure their page load speeds are the best in the industry. They even offer cloud-based services (Amazon web services) because they know their infrastructure is the best. After analysing the ratio of sales to website performance, Amazon discovered that for every 100 milliseconds of page load time, there was a 1% decrease in sales, proving how vital page speed is to the company.

And it’s not just fast site performance that affects the experience: your site’s usability also plays an important role. Ecommerce sites left an estimated $44 billion dollars on the table as a result of shopping cart errors, broken links and other transactional problems. Customers don’t have to put up with bad experiences on ecommerce sites and are not afraid to shop elsewhere if their expectations are not met.

Amazon’s site usability is second to none. A couple of features that I really like are the 1-click ordering and the recommended products. 1-click ordering allows you to sync your credit card details to your account one time and make all future purchases with just one click. This becomes particularly useful when purchasing via the Amazon Kindle or any mobile device – it’s an extra level of convenience for the customer. Here’s a quick look at how Amazon’s 1-click ordering:


The recommended products feature is another way that Amazon extends the customer experience. It adds value by showing customers products that complement the products they have in their shopping cart. Check it out here:


This works well because often times a customer will need to buy multiple products together for what they’re looking to do (i.e., a product and its accessories, a text-book and its study guide, spare parts or batteries, books from similar authors etc.). Amazon is smart in that these recommendations keep customers on their site and offers suggestions they might not know they needed or even know were available for purchase.


4. Mobile-first experience


I’ve talked about how important the mobile customer experience is in a previous blog post. With over 50% of users now visiting your ecommerce site via mobile, you need to consider a mobile-first strategy. A mobile-first strategy involves creating an experience with the mobile visitor in mind, from the design of your ecommerce website to your emails and transactional payment systems.

How is the current experience on mobile for your customers? Is it easy to navigate? To find information? To make a purchase?

Amazon’s mobile-first approach is industry-leading. Their mobile site is super easy to navigate, find information and make purchases. Navigating through a site of Amazon’s size could be considered difficult on a mobile device because they have so many products, but by taking a mobile-first approach, they have found a way to make the experience easy through smart categorization and search functionality.

Smart convenience features like auto-fill on the search engine and 1-click ordering have been designed for the mobile user. Any time you make the experience easier for a customer, you create a sense of loyalty and they will remember that easy experience next time they consider buying a product with you.

Think about it. Would you want to make a purchase on a competitor’s site that was hard to use and took you five minutes to find products or enter credit card details? Probably not.

Remember to keep a mobile-first experience in mind when you start improving your ecommerce customer experience. Your goal should be to create a great mobile experience that is also consistent with the experience customers will receive via a regular desktop.


5. The little things that exceed expectations will create loyalty and build advocacy

Exceeding customer expectations is the number one strategy for improving customer retention. If you can constantly find a way to impress your customers, they will continue to come back for more. Often times, it’s the little things that count the most.

For example, Amazon does a lot of little things very, very well. These little things are often overlooked by other ecommerce retailers and, as a result, create irresistible customer loyalty for Amazon.

Here are just a few things Amazon does really well to exceed expectations:

  • Free returns: In the online retail world where shoe sizes and shirt sizes often get mixed up, offering free returns reduces the risk for the buyer. Customers can relax knowing that if it doesn’t fit or they don’t like it, they can return it.
  • Fast two-day shipping (with Prime): This instant gratification we want as buyers often leads us to shop local at a retail store. Waiting 7 – 10 days for a package to arrive in the mail isn’t any fun. Amazon’s two-day shipping with a Prime membership makes the experience so much better. They guarantee you’ll receive your package within two days and the shipping is free. As a result, this exceeds expectations every time.
  • Wide range of products: Doesn’t it feel like Amazon sells every single product imaginable? Well, they practically do. They’ve done a great job of sourcing products and building partnerships with third parties to fill the product gaps that they can’t fulfil themselves. This exceeds your expectations because it means that you can do all your shopping on the one site – you don’t need to leave Amazon.com. This is super convenient because it means that with just one order, you’ll get all your products delivered to your door.
  • Easy checkout: Amazon’s 1-click ordering makes shopping easy. It exceeds expectations because you don’t have to fumble your way through entering your credit card details each and every time you order.

All these little things that are often overlooked by ecommerce retailers add up and create sticky customer loyalty.


Amazon uses their ecommerce customer experience to create a competitive advantage

Why do Americans buy more from Amazon than any other ecommerce retailer? Is it just because Amazon has the cheapest prices?

I challenge you do think more deeply. Amazon embodies a customer-first culture that breeds experiences that go above and beyond expectations.

It should be your goal to take a page from Amazon’s book and improve your ecommerce customer experience so that you can also create a competitive advantage for your company. Apply these ideas into your customer experience strategy and start creating unique experiences that build loyalty, attract repeat customers and cultivate customer advocacy.

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Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

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