Monday, March 23, 2009

Building a Better Amazon

I do the bulk of my shopping for non-consumables at Amazon, much of that through Amazon Marketplace (it's like eBay, only with quality control). There are things I absolutely love about it, and there are a few features that would make my mostly-good shopping experiences even better. I love being able to make wish lists, and even to leave item notes on said lists. I use the notes section to keep track of price trends and set thresholds (e.g., "buy if below $25" or "buy new if used price is above $6"). This is all well and good, but it means that I spend a lot of time running through the list to check prices.

Wouldn't it be great if there were a feature that sent you e-mails if certain threshold parameters were met? Send me an e-mail if someone offers this item for less than $15. Or, we can do even better; this is the company that introduced one-click shopping, after all. What if you could set a parametrized command that would automatically purchase if a seller with a rating of 95% or better and at least 100 transactions offered a specific item for less than $15 in New or Like-New condition? I think you'd sell a lot more merchandise, and here's why:

My list fluctuates between 150 and 200 items, which is just this side of unmanageably large. I tend to add things to it on a whim--a book promoted on The Daily Show catches my interest, perhaps, and I don't necessarily want to pay full price for it, but I wouldn't mind reading it and if I don't put it in the list I'm going to forget about it. That means that at any given point, 75% of my wish list is things that I probably won't purchase and definitely won't pay very much for--but I have to look through them when I do my price-shopping anyway. 8 pages of items is a lot, so I routinely have to cull the herd, so to speak. Ergo, things that I might be willing to pay $5 for get cut from the list, and I will now never purchase them.

The ability to filter sellers would be great. For example, I don't want to buy a movie without a case or with a case that's in bad condition. You invariably end up with someone who is selling a movie (or game or CD) with no case, no artwork, and lots of scratches that "don't affect playback". Well, most people won't buy it, and it will generally have the low price, so it sits there and I constantly have to shop around it until it gets purchased or removed. So when I'm looking through my list, the price of undesirable item shows up as the "new and used from..." price. So when an item on my list has a new low price, it takes two clicks for me to verfiy that price. If the low price item is bullshit but stays there for a while, everytime I check prices I have to click twice extra for that item. What if there were a little checkbox I could click that kept it from showing up in my list? Or let's say I simply don't want to purchase anything from a particular seller. Or let's say that I won't consider any product that's not in "Very Good" condition or better. Why should inferior products obstruct/prolong my shopping?

In fact, the whole Wish List paradigm could use an overhaul. Don't get me wrong, it's extremely useful and I love it, but if it were more useful, people would use it more, and more products would be sold. Right now it's a setup in which you can make as many lists as you like and those are either public or private. Lists can only contain individual items and they have "Comments", "Priority" (which is a 1-5 scale), as well as "desired" and "received" quantities. There is no "view all lists" option (that I know of). There is no page navigation within a list outside of "previous" and "next". Making lists overlap is impractical. You can't do a search within a list. If something is in a list, there's no indication on the product page. You can filter items by type (video game, movie, music, etc) and by whether you've purchased them or not (or see both). You can sort them by priority low-to-high or high-to low, price highest-first or lowest-first (only the "new" price is factored in), or antichronologically by date-added. This last one is the default and is kind of frustrating--things that I've been watching the longest take the most time for me to get to.

So I've got about 8 pages of things I'm interested in purchasing. Let's say I want to pay close attention to box sets of Battlestar Galactica. Well, most of them are towards the end of the list, but season 4.0 came out more recently, so it's somewhere in the middle, so even if I could jump straight to page 8 (which I can't) I wouldn't see them all. I could sort by priority and filter out non-movies--that might get them all on the same page. Maybe. A regular Amazon search is going to pull up items I'm not interested in (and I can't track prices that way because the comments are in my wish list). Really, my only option is to make a dedicated BSG list, but then it's not there when I'm looking at other things. In practice, it takes at least 8 clicks for me to check prices on BSG sets, and by the time I get to the end of it, I've looked at over 150 other items as well. If I could get there in two clicks, I might be more inclined to buy if I saw a price I liked, and I'd certainly be able to check back more often.

Other little qualms: you can't remove an item or update the comments on an item without redrawing the entire page. So it's easy to forget to save changes or to spend a lot of time trying to do simple things. It's all very frustrating at times.

So why not do this instead: Rather than multiple customizable lists, have a single searchable master wish list with customizable tags. Single items can have multiple tags, including reserved tags like "private" or "gift" that affect their behavior in the list. Priority ranking is fine, but 5 choices is almost too many. I think most people could get by with three (or even two). In practice, something either is a priority or it isn't. Also, being able to reorder the list on the fly would be nice. And I would love to be able to subscribe to more than just products. Why can't I add "Beck" to my wish list, so I get a notification anytime he has a new album out? Do the same for authors or actors or directors or manufacturers or sellers.

Obviously such changes would involve some difficult migration and implementation issues, but I think in the long run it would make for a better website. If Amazon had a suggestion box, I'd send them this idea directly, but instead I hand it over to you, blogosphere.

Do with it what you will,


1 comment:

Bill Haworth said...

Have you used eBay lately? They've fully embraced the principal that any of the pages on eBay can and should be personalized (within certain boundaries) by the user. Odd that eBay hasn't figured out that their new seller/buyer relationship schemes aren't working out real great, yet they have figured out that letting people personalize pages on their site is appreciated by users.

And for those of us who have to search your wish list for gifts, we too are praying that Amazon adopts at least some, if not all, of your suggestions. 8 pages worth of items is too bloody much.