Guiding Amazon's 1 billion customers to what they’re looking for from A-Z

Customer intent ranges from “I don’t know what I want” to “I know exactly what I want”.

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How does Amazon meet each customer need? What experience are we delivering for each customer intent? How does one experience delivered in a desktop browser measure against the one we provide on a tablet or phone? Do customers think in terms of tools available OR do they think in terms of just getting to what they want? Lets answer these questions a bit more deeply before we look at potential solutions.

The Metaphor

The metaphor we’re going to employ is Forest to Leaf. How do our customers get from the massive six hundred million-product forest that is Amazon down to one single product leaf? How do they find the right tree or branch?

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Customers traverse this hierarchy in different orders, e.g., A customer goes directly from forest to leaf when utilizing search. We've optimized the customer intent of finding something specific and checking out. We need to improve how customers walk through the whole forest.

Avenues of Ingress

If you map out every tool available to customers on each medium (browser, mobile, tablet), what you discover is that each tool used with the same input generates a different experience.

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Customers can traverse Amazon using the following Avenues of Ingress:

  • Search bar (requires typing)
  • GNO Super Cluster Browse Navigation (requires clicking)
  • Shop by Department Alpha Ordered List (requires touch)
  • Filters (varying levels of complexity, location, and required interactions)
  • See all departments (requires a click)
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Are we helping or hindering customers who fall into the range of intent before “I know exactly what I want?"

Customer Volume & Intent Paths

Customers think in terms of getting what they want. Customers don't think granularly about the tools Amazon provides them to achieve their goals. Searching books should have similar results as browsing to books if the customer intent is the same. We send those customers down the wrong funnel currently.

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The flow above shows a bell curve graph of the number of customers per intent area. It's likely that the majority of our customers come to Amazon with a pseudo specific intent "I want a sci-fi book but I don't know which one" than the other two ends of the spectrum. Yet depending on the tool they reach for, we give them a different result. It's a little like being on the Price is Right and choosing doors number 1, 2, or 3. You don't know what you're going to end up with, but your goal is one in the same.

How many customers get frustrated because they search books and find themselves on a page with 4 results which have zero relevance to them?

Landing Experiences

So let's quickly glance at where customers end up when looking for "books" on every medium using each avenue of ingress. Missing from this list currently is Windows phone which currently also displays two more different experiences from the ones shown here.

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Each landing page is different. Even among search results.

Let's imagine a customer has some time to spend and sees two bookstores close by. She walks into the first store and is greeted with a series of beautiful and relevant displays showing the best books has to offer, she discovers a new book she never knew she wanted. She walks into the second store and stops cold in her tracks because it looks as though things are backwards. They've put the stock room in the front of the store and the displays in the back of the store. She quickly leaves.

Right now, we do BOTH. It's like playing Russian Roullette with our customers. How many customer interactions are killed because the customer reached for the tool that made the most sense to them and ended up in the stock room? The wrong environment for their needs. Customers shouldn't have to "know" which tool is right for which activity. We should take care of that for them.

Intent Should Drive Results

Across every platform of Amazon, no matter which tool a customer uses, we should recognize their intent and deliver the correct experience.

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Here we recognize customer intent based off initial actions and deliver the right experience. (e.g., if a customer types books in the search bar, it implies she wants to browse books not see a list of search results.)

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Mapping to Our Mission

So far we’ve outlined the current state of intent based shopping and what it should be. Now we need to establish what the specific solution should look like and how that maps to our mission at Amazon.

Lets create an environment, which recognizes customer intent, regardless of where they are and the device they’re using. Let’s guide customers through the experience they subconsciously are looking for. We've done a great job at helping customers find specific things. Let's now do an excellent job at helping them discover. If a customer comes to Amazon to find out what’s new and cool within their personal interest areas, let’s walk them through the forest and show them their favorite trees and branches. Let’s create a highly delightful environment using visuals and microinteractions. Let's pay attention to our customer’s actions and provide unified intent-centric experiences across all devices and platforms.

Visual Browse Tenets

What are some best practices we could employ to improve the browsing experience overall? I've come up with these tenets as a starting place.
  • Visual Browse recognizes customer intent and guides customers to what they want. Intelligently recognize what a customer’s intent is through each action they take and support with the right experience.
  • Product discovery is the focus. Visual Browse enhances product discovery by meeting customer’s intent with compelling and relevant product imagery at each level of depth. Its about discovery, not promotion.
  • Visual Browse makes navigation better. Visual browse should increase both customer mobility AND satisfaction using delightful means of display. Customers shouldn’t have to learn how to use it. It should enhance recognition of destinations and clearly distinguish avenues of ingress and egress.
  • Visual Browse is a destination itself. Visual browse becomes a primary place to discovery not only products but also new areas of interest across all of Amazon. For example, because browse is now a visual destination, something like Amazon Moms becomes more easily discoverable opening that to more of our customers who might find it relevant.
  • Innovation is kingmaker, regardless of difficulty. Developing a beautiful, platform optimized, simple experience will require the innovation bar to be extremely high. We refuse to kill innovative ideas because it’s hard or will incur extra short-term cost.
There is a distinct difference between the laws we set and the methods we employ. Design principles are meant to describe the specific methods we will employ to achieve the results set ou in the tenets.
  • Use representative & meaningful photography. A representative & meaningful photograph paired with a label can be a more usable navigation mechanism than either alone.
  • Images are more compelling as they become more relevant. Increase (rather than decrease) the use of navigational/merchandising visuals as the customer drills in. We will help customers who have the intent to discover by surfacing new and interesting products at each level of the browse structure.
  • Optimize core platform capabilities. Take advantage of each individual platform's unique capabilities. For example, with tablets we can utilize touch and 3D space to ensure simplicity and ease of use.
  • Designs must engender trust while remaining flexible. tilization of a weighted grid creates a stable, clean environment our users can trust while allowing us to infuse new and relevant content as needed.
  • Simplicity is key. If a UI element can be removed and the design still stands, remove it. This keeps product and representative imagery the focus.