6 Reasons Why Copying Amazon Is A Bad Idea For Your Ecommerce Store

When it comes to designing your ecommerce store to maximize conversions, you would intuitively think that copying another successful online store would be the logical thing to do.

After all if an online store is doing well, they’ve probably figured out the most optimal design right?

Copying Amazon

Because Amazon.com is one of the most successful ecommerce stores in the world, we should all emulate exactly what they are doing right?

The other day, I received a question from one of my Create A Profitable Online Store students who asked…

Steve. I just went through your module on best practices for conversion optimization and I noticed that Amazon is not obeying a lot of these principles. Should I copy what Amazon is doing?

The reality is that you can’t just go around blindly copying someone else even if they are selling the exact same products as you are. Sometimes, larger shops go with a certain design because of what is currently trendy.

Sometimes, larger more successful shops are making money despite their lack of optimizations. For example, front page banner carousels were all the rage until people started realizing that they weren’t converting very well.

Amazon is a different beast altogether. Sure, Amazon makes billions of dollars in sales but you can’t exactly compare a billion dollar store like Amazon to your puny little 6 or 7 figure shop.

Here’s why copying Amazon is not a good idea.

Amazon Sells Millions Of Items, You Don’t

Amazon Products
First off, Amazon sells a bunch of random products. In fact, they sell everything! And when you sell everything, you have to make compromises in your design.

As a result, it’s literally impossible for Amazon to optimize their site for any one particular product. Therefore, Amazon has to choose a design that works better on average across their entire portfolio of products.

Have you ever browsed the different categories on Amazon before? Me neither. Whenever I shop on Amazon, I go straight for the search bar.

Now why is that? It’s because finding anything on Amazon using their category navigation is next to impossible.

In fact, I’m looking at Amazon.com right now and they don’t even bother displaying all of the different categories of products they sell by default at all.

Does that mean that you should abandon the category displays for your products? Does that mean that you should simply plop down a search bar and make all other navigation less prominent?

No way! Chances are if you run a small ecommerce store, you probably carry a much smaller variety of products. And when you carry less items, it often makes sense to categorize your products in a logical fashion and encourage users to browse your store.

Amazon Makes Money In Many Different Ways

Amazon Ads
While Amazon has this perception of being a super successful company, many people don’t realize that they are literally hemorrhaging money from quarter to quarter.

Amazon’s goals are most likely not inline with yours. Sometimes, they sell at 0 profit. Sometimes, they have negotiated such great payment terms that it makes sense for them to sell at cost and earn interest on the credit period from their vendors.

Sometimes, they make more money by listing and promoting an item that is sold by someone else. Sometimes, Amazon makes more money from their pay per click ads than their product listings.

When you are small and you are not Amazon, chances are that your main goal is to actually make a profit selling your goods. But for Amazon, they might not care about making money at all.

Because Amazon has so many different revenue sources and so many potential goals for each category, you have no clue whether their objectives are going to be inline with yours. Therefore, you will have no idea whether the design element you want to copy is designed for maximum profitability or for some other random reason.

Amazon Already Has A Reputation. You Don’t

prime
Amazon is already well known as a great place to shop with great customer service. Therefore, they don’t have to put as much emphasis on establishing their store credibility.

You on the other hand are brand new and you have to prove yourself to EVERYONE. Every landing page on your site must hammer home your unique value proposition. Every page on your site must put the customer at ease.

The design of your site must look professional and credible.

I don’t know about you, but I personally find shopping at Amazon a pretty crappy experience. Every page is cluttered with hundreds of calls to action.

There are ads, cross sells, upsells and millions of options to choose from. The reason why I put up with Amazon is because I’m used to shopping there and the checkout process is convenient and easy because they have all of my credit card information stored in their database.

I also like the extensive library of reviews for each product.

When you run a small shop, chances are you aren’t going to be storing credit card numbers in your system for liability reasons. As a result, you will have to make your checkout process short and sweet.

Have you ever tried to checkout at Amazon without an account before? Their checkout process is a nightmare and they ask for a ton of information across many pages. If you were to copy their new customer checkout process, you would shed a lot of customers.

Your Target Audience May Be Different

Increasing the conversion rate for your online store is all about tailoring your store copy to your target customer. But here’s the thing. Your customers and Amazon’s customers will likely not be the same and you won’t be getting customers from the same traffic sources.

For example whenever I shop on a boutique website, it’s often because I’m looking for a specialized item, an item that isn’t readily found in brick and mortar stores or sold in variety at Amazon.

But if I’m just buying commodity goods or regular staple goods online, I’ll most likely buy from Amazon. As you can see, my mindset is completely different depending on where I shop.

Therefore, an online boutique that is trying to sell me a certain product will require a much different strategy than when Amazon is trying to sell me something.

You Have No Idea What You Are Copying

Amazon is constantly testing their shop. And the problem is that you have no idea what is a test and what is not.

For example, what if the specific design element you are copying is not converting that well on Amazon’s site?

What if a specific design element only works well within the flow of Amazon’s site and not yours?

When you shop on Amazon or any large site for that matter, you have no idea about the condition of the design element you are copying. For all you know, it could just be a temporary artifact of their split test.

Amazon’s User Interface Is Generic

Amazon has grown to be a gigantic behemoth by offering millions of products for sale using a generic selling platform. And because they have to cater to so many different types of products, they can’t do a great job with any of them.

Does that mean that you should adopt a generic selling platform for your online store? No way. Your advantage as a small shop is to create a shopping experience that is very specific to the products that you want to sell.

So instead of copying Amazon, it is in your best interests to look at and research sites that sell similar items to your own.

But you have to be careful. Copying other businesses blindly will almost never yield an optimal outcome. The only way to create a high converting shop is to understand the needs of your customers.

And only once you have discovered their needs can you actually design a website that will sell.

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4 thoughts on “6 Reasons Why Copying Amazon Is A Bad Idea For Your Ecommerce Store”

  1. Hey Steve,

    You make some great points on why not to copy Amazon across the board – especially about going straight for the search bar. In fact, the only time I’ve ever used the category structure is to brainstorm for things to sell!

    However, there’s one thing from Amazon that I think people should copy – their highly optimized product descriptions for the Kindle. That’s their bestselling product, and the effort they are putting behind that one product is something we can use to our advantage, since we can put effort on our products that they just won’t get around to for their marketplace.

    I’ve actually written a detailed post on some of the key takeaways from the Kindle description in case someone wants to refer to it: http://bootstrappingecommerce.com/10-lessons-from-the-worlds-best-product-description/

    Cheers!

  2. Mike says:

    Steve,

    I have to say this is one of the best articles I have ever read from your blog.

    I have often thought about what would be the benefits of copying a site like Amazon.

    You left no doubt in my mind that it is a bad idea to try and do that.

    Thank you for such a great value pack article.

    Mike

  3. Lars says:

    Sorry, but you are completely wrong on this one.

    All my greatest successes in life have come from copying Amazon.

    1. I like to use drones to deliver things to people. It makes me look awesome, and it really scares people outside the US because they think they are about to get murdered. The look on their face when they realize it isn’t a hellfire missile is always priceless, and a little grateful.

    2. I like to lose massive amounts of money, but somehow still be incredibly rich anyway!

    3. I like to treat my suppliers and business partners like crap, and sometimes randomly stop selling to them for secret, arbitrary reasons.

    4. I like to do 5 million different things at once.

    5. I once made my own Kindle Fire out of a window pane and some duct tape and a nine volt battery, and it was awesome.

    In summary, you can clearly see that copying Amazon is truly the best way to go.

    And if that doesn’t work, copy Ebay. Or Etsy. Or Geocities.

    PS I *do* have a reputation. It’s just not a good reputation.

  4. Hi Steve,not copying, but adapting the good things.
    Watching out were Amazon changes something in either layout, color, calls to action etc. might help in improving your own conversion rastes as well. IMHO, Amazon is the biggest conversion rate optimizer and we all can learn from them – but like you said, don’t copy.

    T.

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