Amazon isn't always worth copying


Today, a colleague paid me (and my designer) the ultimate website compliment. He asked if he could copy my website structure. “I figured you had it all worked out,” he wrote.

There was a lot of truth in this — enough that I could feel good about telling him to go ahead. I really did try to work in best practices, because I had to. How can I tell customers with lead generation sites to put a contact form on every page if I don’t do it? How can I tell them to link to their privacy policies right by the email field if I don’t do the same?

On the other hand, I didn’t win every battle with my designers and still have a lot of work to do on my own. For example, I don’t have a great 404 error page, so that’s still on my list. I don’t have on-site search that can handle spelling errors and stemming — if you type in “emarketing” instead of “e-marketing,” you get a No Results page. (It’s a nice No Results page, but plain old Results would be better.) I didn’t have enough negotiating capital to get my navigation below the banner, where people would actually see it.

Which brings me to my point. Big companies like Amazon or a small web conversion company like mine aren’t always worth emulating. You assume they’ve tested everything — but maybe they haven’t. Sometimes the politics of an organization force upon companies sub-optimal solutions that everyone can live with.

Because my colleague wrote to me first, I was able to point out one change that would improve his site based on the experience I had with my own. But if you’re copying Amazon — well, the employees at Amazon are better about keeping secrets than the CIA is. Even if you do have a friend at Amazon, she won’t tell you anything. In that case, you have to measure and test, test and measure.


Our founder, Robbin Steif, started LunaMetrics in 2004. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Business School, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Digital Analytics Association. Robbin is a winner of a BusinessWomen First award, as well as a Diamond Award for business leadership. In 2017, Robbin sold her company to HS2 Solutions and has since retired from LunaMetrics.

  • Jeffrey Eisenberg

    It’s not just the politics or being the cobbler’s kid that matter. Amazon’s business objectives are different. Amazon makes great money when a partner sells an item so they are not as motivated to sell their own. Likewise, every business should have their own objectives. If you have the same objectives as your competitors then maybe you should be in a different business.

  • Good point about Amazon. Even though I’m a raving fan of theirs, I’m not terribly objective.

    On your second point, I have to translate a little to reply to. I think you were saying, you need to have your own objective, niche, USP, etc. Then, once you have your own objective, no one else’s website is going to work perfectly for you. Also a good point. However, that doesn’t mean that certain elements of someone else’s site won’t work for you. Maybe it’s just their shopping cart, or just their resolving doors (that one was a gift for you). If you can talk to them, they may say, “Hey, we aren’t particularly happy with that, be careful.”


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