"Reaction [beta]"

Five days: Amazon.co.uk 10 May 2006

Welcome to day three

Over the course of this week, we're publishing Eye Tracking heatmaps from five websites. We'll give you our thoughts on each and hopefully you'll give us your questions, comments and analysis. More information about the study can be found in our original announcement.

Day one saw us tackle Dixons homepage and on day two we explored Currys'. Today, we'll be taking a look at Amazon...

About Amazon

I'm guessing that you're pretty familiar with this organisation already ("like d'uh, Etre!"), so I'll keep it brief. Founded as Cadabra.com by Jeff Bezos in 1994 and launching in 1995, Amazon.com today offers "Earth's Biggest Selection". Amazon was one of the iconic stocks of the dotcom bubble, but didn't turn a profit until the fourth quarter of 2002. Since then the firm has turned net profits of $35 million in 2003, $588 million in 2004 and $359 million in 2005.

Website: www.amazon.co.uk

The heatmap

The white line represents the page fold at our 1024 x 768 monitor resolution. Users needed to scroll to view content located beneath.

See a full size version of this heatmap

Our findings

Amazon's homepage gets users to the type of product that they are interested in quickly - as is demonstrated by the intensity of eye fixations over "BOOKS", "ELECTRONICS & PHOTO", "MUSIC" and "DVD" in the main navigation menu.

It's interesting to note that Amazon's search feature attracted more attention than those found on the other homepages we tested. Indeed 15% of users performed a search query on Amazon.co.uk. This may have reflected the fact that users were more familiar with this company and its product line. Perhaps they felt more confident that Amazon would have what they wanted to find, and therefore attempted to search for it directly, rather than browsing around.

Placing the "FREE Trial" advert in the top-left-hand corner of the page demonstrates a very cunning sales ploy. Amazon knows that users regularly look at the company logo to confirm that they have arrived at the right website. And where is the company logo usually found? That's right - in the top-left-hand corner of the page. So by placing an advert in this space, and moving the logo over to the right, they exploit users' expectations of how websites typically work. During our tests, this little "trick" unwittingly exposed around 50% of users the DVD Rental campaign. Sneaky!

Amazon employs a similar trick to expose people to its "STAR CHOICE" feature. The company knows that users past web experience will lead them to expect the left-hand navigation menu to appear directly beneath the page header. So they put the "STAR CHOICE" feature there instead (positioning the left-hand navigation menu below it). Again, during our tests, this technique exposed the feature to around 50% of users that perhaps wouldn't have seen it had it been located elsewhere. Double-sneaky!

These "tricks" are interesting as they go against the traditional usability mantra of "make it as easy as possible for users to achieve their goals". Amazon succeeds in creating an engaging user experience without adhering to this guideline - but only because it makes things just a tiny bit more difficult. Our users weren't upset by these ploys because the page layout deviated only slightly from their expectations. Ok, so the logo wasn't in the top left-hand corner, but it was very close by - and while the left-hand navigation menu wasn't at the top of the column, it was next in line.

Amazon's design is also more effective than Dixons and Currys at drawing attention to its "Free Shipping" offer. As you'll remember, Dixons and Currys placed their "Free Shipping" offers in the middle of the right-hand column on their homepages. Amazon places its equivalent feature directly beneath its main navigation and search bars - an area that received the most user attention. This ensured the offer was seen.

Yet despite these flashes of inspiration, many elements of Amazon's site performed poorly - the main "DVD RENTAL - FREE TRIAL" banner, in particular (although users may have already seen the similar offer in the top-left-hand corner of the page and therefore probably didn't need to give this banner too much attention).

The "WHAT'S NEW", "Hot 100 Books" and "Hot 100 Music" features (found in the right-hand column) attracted little attention from users. Maybe the advertisement for virgin.net broadband - placed directly above - led users to believe that the remainder of this column would be reserved for third-party advertising.

The "Make Money", "MORE TO EXPLORE" and "TOP FIVE QUESTIONS" sections in the left-hand column were also rarely examined by our users. "Make Money" was probably ignored because it targeted a different demographic group (i.e. authors, developers and associates, rather than consumers); this excuse doesn't apply to "MORE TO EXPLORE" and "TOP FIVE QUESTIONS" however - although it could be said that the contents of these two features are less attractive than the product features located elsewhere on the page.

The central column attracted limited visual attention (at least, compared to the main navigation menu and left-hand navigation menu). Product images performed well, but the lengthy textual descriptions were rarely read in any detail. Such a finding leads us to believe that users focus on the high-level task of "browsing" when interacting with homepages, rather than the low-level task of "inspecting". That is, they "browse" homepages like Amazon's picking out products of interest, before clicking through to their product detail pages to "inspect" them in more depth. And it is at this point that they are most likely to want to persevere with lengthy descriptions.

Over to you

So that's our take. Now, over to you. Do you agree with our findings, or disagree? Perhaps you've noticed something we've missed. We'd love to hear from you...

...and if you're interested in commissioning an Eye Tracking study of your own site, please don't hesitate to get in touch

Update: The results from all five days are now available.

Next article: Five days: MarksAndSpencer.com
Previous article: Five days: Currys.co.uk

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