UX, Prime Day, and Why I’m Irritated

At this point, my feelings and frustrations with Kickstarter are well known. When you are an ecommerce driven organization with a wealth of historical trend data about a user, you’re simply throwing away opportunities at making money when you don’t use that data to your advantage. Today, I felt that feeling all over again. Today… was Prime Day.

Now, there’s no real question that Prime Day was an attempt by Amazon to boost the number of Prime subscribers. This was wrapped in the idea that it would be “a one-day global shopping event on July 15, 2015, with more deals than Black Friday.” This wording is SUPER clever. MORE deals than Black Friday, not necessarily better. But, that’s just marketing at it’s best, really, and we can’t fault that. Instead, I want to fault the execution. And I’m going to fault it hard. As a friend of mine put it:

This was just one of many tweets and Facebook comments in a similar vein. See, Amazon is a crazy smart company, and they spend a fantastic amount of money on refining user experience on the site, because experience is money when you’re their size. If they discover a 3px adjustment to the size of an element increases purchases by .7%, and learning that cost $300,000, that’s an education that was well worth the value. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to sit in on several UX testing sessions with them (which I can’t tell you anything else about, thanks to NDAs, yay secrets!), and they always ask great questions about interactions. That’s what makes today so… weird. Weird enough that people all over Twitter were mocking it (okay, they mock everything, but still). Let’s start with the most obvious thing. Here’s a look at the site earlier today when you went in to look at deals.

Browsing Sale Items

Browsing Sale Items

The very first issue I saw was that it was simply painful to figure out what good deals were out there. This presentation layer was an awful way of showcasing what they had to offer. Whether it was the arbitrary categories (all of which were some form of “Exclusive”), the maddening horizontal scrolling, or the totally unrelated items mixed together, it was simply too much work to find things worth buying. It was cluttered, sloppy, and felt a lot like Netflix, actually, who I have also criticized for their maddening taxonomy. People in general don’t have the patience to sift through hundreds of items to find one worthwhile deal that appeals to them. Then, there’s the weird thing that happened when browsing the sections…

I'll take one! Oh... wait...

I’ll take one! Oh… wait…

Why… WHY is Amazon wasting screen real estate showing me things that are sold out and expired? What can I do with that? Do they think I’m going to go add it to my wishlist now? Do they think they’re implying scarcity? Sales are meant for impulse purchasing. You make your appeal to the customer, try to sell them on the spot, and move on. This would be like walking into Walmart and seeing empty endcaps and hoping the customer comes back later for it. Don’t make me work to buy the item. If I can’t get it, show me something I can. You’re just missing conversion opportunity otherwise and wasting my time.

Now, let’s get back to the “Kickstarter Issue.” Predictive analytics. This is Amazon. I’ve been a Prime member for years. Recent research notes that Prime users tend to spend more than double what non-Prime users spend. I’m sure I fit that model (Hell, I probably clear at least $500 just during Christmas season). That means they have TONS of data on my buying habits. So why aren’t they giving me targeted sale items that fit my habits that I’ll be more likely to buy instead of the JugLug? Why aren’t they making an effort to use my habits against me and get me to crack open that wallet? Looking at the homepage, I had a glimmer of hope when I saw this:

Predictive detergent deal?

Predictive detergent deal?

I thought maybe, just maybe, they’d made at least one recommendation based on my past. It seemed like a reach, but again, I give them a lot of credit for being smart. See, I order dish detergent in bulk as it’s much cheaper than in the store here. I’m always gonna need it, so if I can stock up cheap, then I will. This exact brand, as it turns out. So you can understand when I thought it was in the realm of possibility. Then I saw this.

So apparently no, it was just a coincidence. The one very small thing I thought might have been right, wasn’t. I have an everloving wishlist with over 300 items on it for gods’ sake along with years of purchase history. And you’re telling me Amazon isn’t using that information to get me to spend money today? Consumers are basically puppets waiting to be made to dance by the strings of marketing. Make me dance, and I will. But as a supervillian once said, apparently there are no strings on me. I’m not sure how you miss the mark much bigger than that. Okay, I can think of a couple ways…

The Gateway to Oblivion

The Gateway to Oblivion

This is the Amazon homepage today. Gone are the top banners, the horizontal scrollers prompting you with items you’ve looked at, or to treat your self with something from your wishlist. Just big banner after big banner. Note that nowhere here does it mention you need to be a Prime member to take part in the sales. A couple banners indicate “Prime Exclusives,” but it’s all Prime exclusive. So the rest is actually misleading to the customer. And here’s the crazy part of this: the above screenshot was taken while logged in, but it’s the same if you’re logged out.

Call to action? More like hope for action.

Call to action? More like hope for action.

The reason this is crazy is because there’s no call to action on the page to BECOME A PRIME MEMBER. That’s the whole point of the sale! Instead, you have to go to the lightning deals, click through to one of the products, and happen to see this tiny, out of the way button telling you you’ll actually have to spend $100 more (well, $99). It’s not a bait-and-switch, but you can see how it would feel that way to an average user, I think. If this campaign is all about attacking Jet.com and stoking the fires of the Prime user base, why is this the best CTA on the site for it? This is like the poor orphan Oliver Twist timidly asking to please have some more.

It just doesn’t make any sense. As someone that usually takes part in the Steam Summer Sale, it leaves me all a bit baffled. Granted, Steam has a much different product base to deal with, but they at least get the simple things right, like showing my wishlist items on sale, and limiting the items enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed trying to sort through the pile. Time and time again I heard from people that simply gave up trying to figure out what was worth buying. They weren’t going to sift through it all, and they definitely weren’t going to stay glued to their screen.

At one point, I did catch sight of a “mystery lightning deal.” Ah, a surprise! Well, surprise might be a bit generous in this case, as I soon saw the mystery when I clicked through to see what the opportunity was.

What have we here?

What have we here?

As a photographer, this is just insane. For someone that has $419 to just toss at a whim, this is just insane. At best, you buy this to hope you can eBay it for more than you paid. First, if you’re remotely serious about photography, you’re not taking some random dSLR. There are lens issues, questions about ISO and shutter speed options, and just general product compatibility questions. As a Nikon guy, no way am I paying for this and getting stuck with a Canon body. Even if you’re in the market for a dSLR, when you get into the area of spending hundreds of dollars you are (I hope) doing your due diligence about what you’re getting for that money. It’s crazy to just take this on a whim. Mystery laundry detergent or universal remote, okay. Mystery multi-hundred dollar piece of tech that you’re going to commit to for possibly years, no. Granted, this is just one example, so maybe I’m being unfair compared to other mystery deals, but given the overall scope of things I feel pretty fair in pointing this one out.

As another wise supervillian once said, there will be blood in the water, and the sharks will come. Not to be outdone, Walmart was fast to announce a Rollback sale of their own on their site at the same time. Walmart is, after all, a huge competitor to Amazon, even though Amazon would tell you their prices are better. But to hurt your brain even more Christina Warren was kind enough to chime in…

Oh? Surely it can’t be that bad, right? I mean right? Let’s go look.

Pin the tail on the category

Pin the tail on the category

Why? WHY? Why are we tossed into a blend that includes such highlights as paper towels, tablets, swimwear, and diapers? Also, for the record, 1.1 cent (not PERcent. Cent. As in 1.1 pennies.) off a pack of paper towels simply is NOT a sale (Edited out per comment, my mistake in reading the listing). This isn’t marketing. This isn’t clever salesmanship. What Amazon and Walmart are doing is the equivalent of throwing spaghetti against a wall and seeing what sticks. They’re spamming products on the page and hoping that people click. They’re also undermining the idea of a sale or rollback in general. Since when is that a strategy? Since when is that the Amazon way, even?

Aside from the Fire Phone, I’m inclined to feel like this might be the single biggest black mark in Amazon’s history. There was a huge opportunity to capitalize on the “Christmas in July” concept, and it didn’t just miss, it didn’t even really swing. In many cases, the sales weren’t even that compelling to begin with. It was enough to ding the stock today for 4.38 points at the closing bell. Not a huge thing when you’re trading well over $400/share, but also not a resounding vote of confidence. In the end, it frustrates me because I’m not sure why they didn’t do better. I can think of a half dozen ways the customer UX could have been better for the sale – not just in little ways, but big things. While I’m no one to tell Amazon how to do business, there’s plenty of community response that seems to reinforce that I’m not far off the mark.

Next year will come soon enough. They can try again, and it will be interesting to see how they improve based on what was learned here.

  • FYI, the “1.1 cent” thing you’re railing about against Wal-Mart: It’s not a 1.1 cent discount, it’s the per-unit price. The total cost of the pack of paper towels is $15.97; there are apparently 117 sheets per roll; there are 12 rolls in the pack; that makes a total of 1,404 total paper towels. $15.97/1,404=~$0.011/sheet.

    The thing about Wal-Mart’s push, though, is that it doesn’t actually seem to have been a sale at all. The same items are the same price today, and every day. As their home page banner still says: “No 1-day sales here! Just savings every day.”

    With that bit of pedantry out of the way, I couldn’t agree more. I was baffled when I got to Amazon yesterday morning, and didn’t see a single thing on the home page that even remotely interested me. Usually, Amazon is so good about pointing out things that at least sort of relate to the stuff I tend to buy; yesterday was a complete no-go, and it was painful to look at and try to work through. Needless to say, I didn’t buy a single thing, and didn’t even go back to the site later in the day to see if there were new deals.

    • Michael Fienen

      Thanks, you’re right about the 1.1 cent thing. I edited accordingly.

    • aaronmhill

      I *loathe* how grocery stores do per unit pricing. Sometimes the unit is “ounces” sometimes it’s “pounds” (and I’m talking about 2 diff brands of the same item ON THE SAME SHELF). Sometimes it’s “bottles”, sometimes it’s “cases”, or “fluid ounces”, or “gallons” or “liters”. The grocery store is in command of their label making — the punishment they dole out on these labels is either sloth (too lazy to change) or deceit (easier to be sneaky with fake discounts). or maybe malice. I’m not sure.

      There is no consistency and it makes it near impossible to do price comparisons easily.

      Who the heck calculates their purchase price per sheet, anyways? Far more useful would be $1.29 / roll. It’s a digital display, they could literally display the units in WHATEVER WAY THEY LIKE.

      That said — I’m curious to see how amazon addresses the fallout from this event.

      • Michael Fienen

        $10 says they ignore all the criticism in any public sense.

  • > But, that’s just marketing at it’s best, really, and we can’t fault that.

    Ok, lots of people make that mistake, I’ll keep reading…

    > they spend a fantastic amount of money on refining user experience on the site, because experience is money when you’re there size

    Ugh, really? I abandoned this blog experience after that. Proofreading is a big part of user engagement and trust.

    • Michael Fienen

      If you’re offended that badly by a typo (and an easy one to make, at that), I’m not sure how you tolerate most anything on the internet. But then again, trolls always be trollin’.

      I fixed it though, just for you, because I agree – you don’t want mistakes like that out there. Just like the commenter below that caught a mistake I made translating a point from a screenshot. That’s just what you do when it comes up, even if the person pointing it out is tactless about it. I’m not above admitting that sometimes my fingers outpace my eyes or brain while writing. It’s worth keeping in mind that humans make mistakes. I don’t have an editor standing by for my posts, and frankly, I was drinking a lot of scotch while writing.

      Come back, or don’t. I’ll be here writing regardless.

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