"Amazon.com has always been very aggressive about analyzing its Web site's traffic to a high degree and making modifications based on what they see happening," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "Amazon.com seems to do the best job of continually refining its site to make the customer experience better."
The company has been a pioneer in its relentless use of Web site design testing and optimization, constantly evaluating everything, including minutiae such as the color and shape of tabs on the site, says Guy Creese, managing principal at Ballardvale Research.
That is time and money well spent, because given the volume of traffic on Amazon.com's Web site, even a slight optimization of its design can mean millions of dollars in additional sales, Creese says. "That type of work and study absolutely pays off," Creese says.
By basing its Web site design decisions on usage data and not necessarily on aesthetics or internal designers' gut instinct, Amazon.com has managed to keep its user interface closely aligned with its ultimate goal, which is turning visitors into buyers, says Eric Peterson, another Jupiter Research analyst.
"Amazon.com makes changes [to the Web site] that make sense for the business. I never get the sense Amazon.com is willy nilly about Web site design," Peterson says. "I don't think Amazon.com has the prettiest site, but I never have trouble finding stuff there and making purchases. At the end of the day, that's what they should be most proud of."
Another area in which Amazon.com has excelled is in using past purchasing data to personalize customers' shopping experience, modifying pages on the fly to adjust them to individuals' preferences and interests. It also lets customers post product reviews and lists of suggested shopping items to aide others.
In this way, Amazon.com uses technology -- databases and data analysis tools -- to provide a type of individual shopping assistance that stores used to provide decades ago, when owners knew their customers personally, Enderle says.
Moreover, Amazon.com has managed to do this in a way that most customers perceive as useful and not as a creepy surveillance practice, Dworsky says. "It has been able to maintain pretty good data on individual purchasing and [product] browsing habits without making it appear like you're being snooped on, because it's done in a helpful way," he says.
The recognition of Amazon.com's e-tailing expertise is now broad enough that major retailers have opened up stores inside the Amazon.com Web site, while others have hired the Seattle company to provide them with technology and services for their own Web sites.