As a virtual company, Amazon faces a huge challenge to gain influence in the mind of the customer. Nevertheless, it has largely succeeded in gaining the desired emotional response.
A visit to Amazon's website reveals part of the reasons for the success of this brand.
Amazon.com opens as a text-based shopping site, packed with hyperlinks. As expected, the different departments appear on the left, and a more general navigation menu is located on the top. It is fast to download, even for slow dial-up connections. The design and layout are clean and highly promotional. It reminds one of a supermarket more than a trendy retail store or a fashion magazine – fun and flair are not part of Amazon's positioning.
The website largely avoids architecture that requires Flash or fancy features available only to the latest browsers. The site's architecture is nonetheless highly sophisticated. Analyzing the visitor's click-throughs, Amazon captures a great deal of psychographic data. This is used to direct the visitor toward dynamically generated pages of likely interest.
Although this marketing technique is sometimes depicted as overly aggressive, it is now tuned to satisfaction. The visitor can "improve" on the recommendations that the site makes automatically. Several methods are offered, either based on historical data or based on a list of Favorites Areas. Changes in the selection are instantaneously flagged as saved when a box is checked. Attention to details helps this site gain high marks for its usability.
The browsing experience is a breeze; it is remarkably informative, painless and light-speed fast. The speed factor is intelligently combined with a friendly Shopping Cart or, faster even, the 1-Click Ordering feature, which can be switched on and off, to avoid an "Oops, I did it again."
Not only does Amazon offer to build a Wish List, but also articles put in the shopping cart can be saved for later, and stored in a lower section of the shopping cart for whenever "later" occurs. (Quite possibly occurring “never.”) The shipping options – which in the past have been confusing – are now clear. On an otherwise plain page, a colorful message warns visitors where they stand in terms of qualifying for free shipping: "Wait! Add $13.11 to your order to qualify for FREE Super Saver Shipping." It is both good business and adds to the transparency of the process.
The shopping cart actually offers a range of shipping methods, including gift-wrapped and one-day shipping options. For specific items, a clock also indicates the closing time to benefit from the guaranteed delivery time. It’s a win-win situation for the brand and the customer: gift givers are prepared for an anniversary or birthday; Amazon is remembered as reliable.
Again, the usability is remarkable. With several items in the shopping cart, for instance, the following message pops up in bold: "Unless you select 'Ship items as they become available' under shipping preferences below, 2 of your items will delay your order." Clearly, Amazon works to anticipate any disappointing glitches that could under-deliver on its promise.
However, at the time of this review, a glitch did happen: the order left Amazon's warehouse one day late and the shipping company never made up for the lost time (note the accuracy of Amazon's tracking system). The little brown box with Amazon's smiling logo arrived a day later than promised.
After filing a complaint with Amazon's customer support department, a courteous response came within hours: "Thanks for writing to Amazon.com to bring this to our attention. Please accept our sincere apologies for the late delivery of the shipment […]. We do take full responsibility for any delays that result from errors made during shipping. In an effort to compensate you for this inconvenience, I've requested a partial refund of the shipping charges you paid for this package. […]"
Apologies…? Full responsibility? In the litigious US environment, those are rare and beautiful words that do not ring hollow. At first sight, the excellent email and its prompt timing reveal management processes of outstanding quality.
Amazon.com has few opportunities to touch the customer with its brand. Stuck in cyberspace, the brand essentially appears on two-dimensional monitor screens, in advertising, on its plain brown boxes and through occasional customer support intervention. Even with such a limited number of contact-points with the customer, Amazon aligns them perfectly to provide a consistent message all around. Powerful.