Maryam Mohit started working at Amazon.com in 1996 and soon after
became Amazon.com's V.P. of Site Development, with responsibility
for the online customer experience. More recently, since returning
from maternity leave, she is in charge of reviewing the UI of new
developments on the site.
Q: Amazon.com is a leader in online customer experience. Is this
an explicit focus inside the company?
It would be hard for our focus on customer experience to be any more
explicit. Customer-centricity has been part of our company mission
since day one, and it starts with Jeff [Bezos, Amazon.com founder
and CEO]. He's always been a champion of focusing on the customer.
Because of that initial focus, he has attracted people to the
company who are also interested in customer experience.
And it's not just the people you'd think, like designers and
usability specialists. Our engineers are really strong about
thinking about customer experience, and our operations team, the
people who run the back-end operations. Are the boxes easy to open,
what packing material do we use, how much packing material is in the
box, is it recyclable?
So it's infused throughout all levels of the company. We also have a
usability team with people in the roles you'd expect. But when
people ask why it is that Amazon.com has this focus, the key is that
it's not one person, or one team, responsible for the overall
customer experience. Everyone in the company owns it.
Q: Then what does the usability team do?
We run a lot of tests in our usability lab, almost continuously.
Project teams can request usability testing, and the usability team
also goes out and tests stuff of interest. Or ideas to investigate
might come from customer service e-mail, which is a really important
source of information.
Usability doesn't have to be expensive. You don't need a 50-person
usability team. Just a small good team, and people throughout the
company who get it. Having a CEO who gets it is also really
important. You don't need a huge team for usability if people are
making the right decisions along the way.
Q: What's Amazon.com's "secret sauce," the secret of your success?
I wish I knew. I do think that the relentless focus on creating a
great experience has to be part of it. It's not just a great
experience on the website, because we think about it as a 360 degree
experience, which includes what happens after you click to order.
What's the experience of waiting for the order to arrive, of getting
the box, what happens if something goes wrong? Each of those is part
of the customer experience.
For us, it's a combination of listening really hard to customers,
and innovating on their behalf. For example, quite awhile ago we
developed the "similarities" feature - the one that says "people who
bought this also bought that." In focus groups, no customer ever
specifically requested that feature. But if you listened to
customers talk about how they buy things, they'd say, my friend
bought this, and I like what they like. In other words, they get
recommendations from people they trust. There was a cognitive leap,
based on those comments, to realizing that we could create something
like that based on the data we had. That's an example where there
was a need expressed by customers, but the innovation was taking
that general need and making the leap to a technology that meets
that need in a new way.
1-Click is another example. It did really poorly in its original
user tests, in 1997. Shopping on the Net was very new - we were at
the stage where people would place their order, then write us a
letter asking, are you really going to send this to me? The idea
that they'd click the button and be done was sort of scary.
Customers told us that they wanted to click a confirm button and
felt it was too scary without it. So, we took the UI back to Jeff
and said no, it's terrible, it's never going to work. But Jeff was
convinced that we had to make it 1-Click, not 2-Click, so we went
back to the drawing board and made adjustments to make customers
more confident. For example, we added a small message in
parentheses, which was really important: "Don't worry, you can
cancel it later." It was there for years. But nowadays almost
everyone's comfortable with buying online.
Q: Given the initial test results, how did you measure whether
1-Click was successful when it launched?
It was so obvious. Customers started using it and wrote us saying
that it was great. One wonderful thing about the Web is that when
you release something, you instantly know what's working about it or
not, because people from all over the world write and tell you. If
you care about creating a great customer experience, there's no
better medium. It's good for instant gratification junkies.
Q: But you need the right structure within the organization to get
you those e-mails from customers.
I'd disagree with you there. You don't need an organization
structured so the e-mails get to product developers, but rather
product developers who care enough to go and get those e-mails. At
Amazon.com we started out with people who cared enough to go get the
information they needed. Now that we're bigger, we need those
structures and processes. But organization is no substitute for
passion. If the people aren't passionate about the right things,
your organization doesn't matter.
Q: What measurements does Amazon.com use to monitor the customer
Metrics are super important. It's not just measuring, but measuring
the right stuff and understanding it, especially on a complex
website like ours. We're measurement-obsessed. We have a Web metrics
group, a bunch of really smart people, statisticians and the like.
They measure sales metrics, monitoring them in various increments of
time - by the minute, by the day, or longer. Anyone who sees an
unexpected swing in a measurement can go in and investigate what the
cause might be. I can't talk about everything we measure, but we do
study the typical measurements - conversion, visitors, purchases -
and we correlate our measurements with changes we've made on the
site, to see what's driving what, how to position things on pages,
and which features to delete.
Q: It seems to be a natural part of e-commerce sites' maturation
that they continually add new features. The risk, of course, is
clutter. Do you think that Amazon.com has challenges in this area?
In some informal tests of several e-commerce sites recently, we
observed a customer having trouble buying a book on Amazon.com,
because of the number of elements on the product page.
I definitely think we have challenges in that area. The product
detail page is one that I'm concerned about. To me, it's a little
less organized than it needs to be. We're giving customers excellent
features that they want, like buying used goods or in-store pickup,
but we need to make sure that they have the information they need to
make the purchase decision, then buy it in the way that's best for
them. Sort of "do I want to buy it," and then "how to I buy it."
So, we need to measure and understand where clutter is having a
negative effect, and then optimize those pages, maybe by getting rid
of some things that aren't working. It's more fun to create new
things than to take away other things, but sometimes you have to
focus on removing things as well.
Q: I recently noticed some cross-selling on Amazon.com that confused
me: on the bottom of a book page (see screenshot), in the "customers who bought
this also bought" section, it was promoting "clean underwear" from a
major retailer. What happened there?
It's so funny that you mention that. It was supposed to be a joke.
The team was trying to introduce customers to our new apparel site
in a way that poked fun at ourselves. When I saw it, I didn't get
the joke right away, either. They've since made it more obvious that
it's a joke.
Did you see the butterfly ballot joke we posted after the 2000
election? I'll never forget the day after the election, we put it up
and didn't tell anyone, but we showed it to Jeff. He thought it was
quite amusing, and he showed it at the all-company meeting the next
day. Then it took off by word-of-mouth, which we didn't expect - it
was just an internal joke for ourselves.
Q: What's next for Amazon.com?
We'll be focusing heavily on our platform. The new apparel site is a
good example. There are 400 different brands and merchants selling
goods through our platform, which is different from how we've done
it in the past. The Target.com site, for example, is running on our
Q: Quite a change from the early days.
I remember in my first week at Amazon.com, I said to Jeff, "It's
terrible, someone else owns the books.com URL. Aren't you bummed?"
He said, "No, I don't want that. That's a small and narrow URL.
There's a reason I named it Amazon.com."
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