You Are Not Amazon (Admire, Don't Copy) moves a lot of product, processing 24 orders every second. If it were a country, its 76 million-plus unique visitors would make it the world's 17th-largest.

However, this success doesn't mean it's smart to duplicate Amazon's Web site strategies. You should think critically about content, audience, and goals before trying out any feature used by another site -- even a leader like Amazon. Features and solutions should be tailored to fit specific contexts.

Consider some often imitated, but never-wise-to-duplicate approaches if you're looking for e-commerce success.

First, consider Amazon's weird business model, where it places ads from other companies on its product pages -- for the same product! This seems crazy, as it encourages visitors to buy from competitors. Yet its business model ensures that Amazon makes more on ads than it loses in business through these links. In adition, most users will pay more to shop with Amazon because of brand familiarity and excellent customer service. Amazon can get away with this because of its unique business model. Since you're not Amazon, don't employ the same strategy.



Second, one of the reasons Amazon generates huge traffic is because of its online reviews, which are even read by people who plan to purchase offline. But that doesn't mean Amazon's review concept should be copied.

Out of Amazon's millions of daily visitors, only about one in 1,300 (0.07%) purchasers writes a review. Plus, Amazon's ingenious "Was this review helpful to you?" question helps prioritize reviews, keeping the best at the top. Only about one in 7,300 purchasers respond. Prioritizing makes Amazon's review system work; it doesn't get more informative reviews, it just gets more, and weaker ones aren't as visible. Since you're not Amazon, expect fewer reviews and even fewer review ratings.

It's not just Amazon whose strategies are tempting. Banana Republic has a robust e-commerce site. Because Gap Inc. owns Banana Republic, the site is combined with four other brands displayed as tabs across the top of the page, putting multiple labels on a single site while keeping each distinct. There is, however, a potential problem.

While shopping on Banana Republic, you see that other brands are available, but only find products offered by Banana Republic -- not ones by Gap or Old Navy. What if you don't like Banana Republic's products? Do you know this is only a third of the available options? It's possible that what you really want is hidden on the Gap tab, but you may leave without seeing it.

The site designers are clearly aware of this issue because subtle links to the other brands appear in the right margin. You might miss them -- that's likely not a problem. People on the Banana Republic site are interested in one of its products, not Gap's or Old Navy's. These brands are household names, and users are likely to enter the site with specific feelings attached to each. Reminders are fine, but shoppers will be annoyed if irrelevant items are mixed in with the ones they want.

Gap knows users are informed and opinionated about its labels, so it pushes the brands first, then the products. Since your brand is probably less of a household name, you'll want to ensure that your products come first.

There is much to admire on sites like Amazon, and researching industry leaders is a great way to get inspiration. But differences in business models, audience and content mean that much of what you see will not work on your site. You are not Amazon -- which is great, because you have a chance to be better. After all, Amazon didn't make a profit until its seventh year in business, and that's one model most people would rather avoid.

1 comment about "You Are Not Amazon (Admire, Don't Copy) ".
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  1. Maggie Hall from Legacy Health, May 20, 2011 at 7:02 p.m.

    Really enjoyed the article John.

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