5 Ways To Ruin Your Online Store By Copying Amazon

Amazon is seen as the leader in ecommerce these days. When you want an example of a successful online store, Amazon is the most popular choice. They do a number of things better than most. But should you copy their every move?

3 things Amazon does well (and you should look at closely)

1. Customer Reviews

This is what Amazon is famous for. They have almost perfected the customer product review. Their rating and review system is complete, easy to use, and actually quite helpful to would be buyers. This is probably the most imitated feature that Amazon offers.

It’s imitated because reviews drive customer purchases.

2. Their Checkout flow (for returning customers)

For returning shoppers to Amazon, it’s quite easy to complete a purchase. Simply sign-in, review your order, and you can check out quickly. No wading through multiple screens and re-filling in information. Just review, click, and you’re done.

If you offer customer registration (and I hope it’s optional), make note of how the checkout flow progresses at Amazon the next time you’re buying from them (which if you’re like me will probably be quite often).

3. Up-sell / Cross-sell

Does any e-tailer do it better? They would be hard pressed to exceed Amazon’s ability to show the customer perfectly paired items, what others are buying, and what they think may compliment your purchase. You probably cannot duplicate this level of sophistication, but it’s wise to note how they integrate cross-sell / up-sell into their product pages.

5 things not to copy from Amazon

Just because Amazon is doing something (or not doing something) doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for your online store to duplicate. Here’s 5 things I would not try to replicate…

1. No EV SSL certificate

I’ve heard a few merchants say “Amazon doesn’t use an EV SSL cert., why should I?” (An EV SSL certificate is a secure certificate where the URL address bar turns green and the company name is displayed in the browser). Guess what? Amazon does not have a trust problem! Even my grandmother knows who Amazon is (I’m betting that she hasn’t heard of your company though).

An EV cert. is a great way to display your website’s trustworthiness when the shopper goes to complete their purchase. It shows wary customers that your site and company can be trusted with their credit card and/or personal information. Amazon has this trust already. Although I think they could benefit from using an EV certificate, it’s certainly not needed for a company with their reach.

2. No trust marks

You don’t see a McAfee Secure badge on Amazon. There is no BBB logo. And this makes sense for Amazon, as they are one of the largest e-tailers on the planet. They do not need to prove that their company is worthy of your trust. They know you already trust them.

Assuming your online store is not as well known as Amazon (I think I’m safe with this assumption), potential customers may not know who you are, and whether they can trust your company. Displaying one or two well known security badges (like McAfee, the BBB, Verisign, etc…) can help a customer on the fence decide that your company is one they can trust enough to make a purchase.

3. Extremely low pricing

Trying to compete head-on with Amazon in terms of pricing is often a losing battle. There are 2 large reasons why they can offer such a low price on their products:

1. They buy in bulk
(translated: each widget they buy may be more than your entire store’s inventory for all your products)
They can negotiate lower prices due to large purchases, their market penetration, and the fact that they are Amazon. Sorry to say, your business probably does not have this leverage.

2. They invest the money they eventually pay for widgets
Amazon, being who they are, can order 10,000 widgets and know they will sell them in 3-4 months. They essentially strong-arm their vendors and pay them net 90, net 120, or longer. During this 3-5 month window, they can invest the money they eventually will pay, and can earn money on these future payments. This means they potentially could sell a product below cost and still turn a profit!

4. They offer everything under the sun

Amazon is the king and queen when it comes to offering the widest variety of products online. From coffee to jewelry, they have something for everyone. And that is what makes them so successful. However, this is not a model smaller merchants would want to copy. Why?

People searching for a specific product or genre of products will come to your store with a solitary purpose in most cases. They are not looking for slippers to compliment the iPad carrying case they want to purchase from your store. The more focused and niche oriented your online store, the better. That doesn’t mean ignoring great cross-sell / up-sell opportunities, but don’t dilute your brand so much that it is not recognizable.

5. They require registration

Of course Amazon requires registration to complete a purchase. They know you’ll be back many times to purchase other items. They bank on this, and have tailored their streamlined checkout for returning buyers. It works for their model. (I tested signing up as a new user at Amazon and boy did I get tired wading through all the screens. I forgot just how involved the first purchase at Amazon can be.)

For smaller merchants, it’s likely a good chunk of your customers may be first time buyers, and may not come back for multiple purchases down the road. Requiring customer registration is another roadblock to order completion. Imagine going to a local toy store for Christmas and having the cashier ask you 25 different questions before letting you buy the toys. I’d be out of there after the 3rd question, and looking for an easier store to shop in.

Hopefully I’ve shown you a few things to look at when it comes to Amazon, and few things to avoid as well for your online store. Feel free to leave a comment about other things to copy or not copy when it comes to Amazon or other large e-tailers. Your fellow readers will appreciate it.  :)

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  1. Paul Chaney says:

    You can’t out google Google, or out facebook Facebook (privacy issue notwithstanding) and you certainly can’t out amazon Amazon. I’m with you, in that there are things smaller ecommerce merchants shouldn’t even try to do.

    • Thanks for the feedback Paul. Many merchants often try to emulate what the bigger e-tailers are doing, but don’t realize that economies of scale often make those things not ideal for the “little guys and gals”.

      If they do want to attempt a new approach, they need to measure and analyze the ROI of these changes to see if they really make sense for their business.

  2. Joseph A'Deo says:

    Thanks for the notes about EV SSL and trust marks here. I work for VeriSign and the lack of both at Amazon in spite of their gargantuan status has always troubled and puzzled me a bit — I mean, even if their shopping cart didn’t jibe with EV SSL technology they could still go with an option like the VeriSign Trust Seal, which offers authentication and malware scanning without encryption. It’s a wonder that they haven’t had a major malware break thus far, but obviously security has to still be a priority for them. In any case, these are excellent tips, and no site should assume that all the security bells and whistles are appropriate for them — it’s a balancing act to facilitate the maximum amount of trust while maintaining the maximum amount of ROI.

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