In case you haven’t read it yet, there’s a really helpful business book called Switch that teaches businesses how to create change when change is hard.

One of the lessons it teaches is about how more can be learned by studying what works well than studying what’s not working. It’s counterintuitive to most people, but basically, studying what works well produces better results than studying something that’s not working.

That’s why Rejoiner has decided to conduct a series of shopping cart reviews from the top online retailers. The alternative is to study mistakes that people are making online, but there’s much more that can be learned by studying what is working for the top online retailers.

Amazon is one of these companies. They’ve spent countless hours perfecting their digital selling techniques, and we’d like to study what’s working for them. We’d like to study their shopping cart system to see what features and best practices they employ. InternetRetailer.com ranks them as the #1 digitalseller, so we’re pretty sure there’s a lot we can learn from Amazon.

So without further ado, let’s begin our review of the Amazon shopping cart experience and see what we lessons can learn.

Starting with the Home Page

The first thing I noticed with the Amazon shopping cart experience is that it begins on the homepage. In the top right corner of the page, there’s a mini shopping cart that shows zero items when a visitor first lands on the site. This shopping cart is small, and doesn’t take up a lot of space.

Although it doesn’t take up much space, it communicates a lot in the small amount of real estate that it does take up on the page. It includes a picture of a shopping cart, a zero in the shopping representing the number of items in the cart, and a small black arrow next to the cart showing users that more information will be provided by clicking or hovering over the cart.

After further examination, you find out that hovering over the cart provides more information about what is in the cart (which in this case is nothing), and it also includes a button to view the full shopping cart in case visitors want to view the contents of the cart at any time.

Overall, through the use of a small but clear shopping cart icon that provides more information when hovered over, Amazon provides a very concise but clear picture of what the customers shopping status is. The button doesn’t provide too much information and doesn’t take up too much space, but it does communicate a lot to visitors about how to use the shopping cart. Amazon deserves an A++ for this mini-shopping cart experience.

To continue with the review, I’m going to view a book, Scientific Advertising, to learn how to add it to the shopping cart.

Adding Products to the Cart

In order to help customers add products to the shopping cart, Amazon provides a very easy to find “Add to Cart” section in the top right of the product page. This section stands out with a blue background that contrasts with the white background used on the rest of the page.

It includes two accented buttons in yellow and in orange that provide options for “Adding to Cart” and “Add to Cart with FREE Two-Day Shipping.” This section also includes the option to change the quantity and to sign in to enable “1-click ordering.”

Lastly, there’s an option to add the book to a wish list. Not many companies can do something like this, but Amazon is able to generate extra sales through their wish list system. Customers put books they want on a wish list, giving someone else (parents, grandparents, spouses, etc.) the opportunity to purchase the book (or product) for them. This is a great way for Amazon to generate extra sales and to alleviate the pain point many people experience when faced with the difficult task of attempting to purchase a gift for someone else.

Even though this “Add to Cart” section is simple, it effectively gives customers an easy way to add products to the cart, sign in, or add the product to a wishlist. Even though the design is simple, it’s highly visible on the page, and it’s placed in the right-hand corner which is where most customers know to look for a shopping cart or add to cart feature. It’s simple, but it obviously gets the job done since Amazon is the #1 online retailer.

At this point, I’m going to click “Add to Cart” in order to add Scientific Advertising to my shopping cart.

Beginning the Checkout Process

Now that I’ve added Scientific Advertising to my shopping cart, Amazon takes me to the first checkout page. On this page, they show:

  1. How many items have been added to the cart (highlighted in bright green)
  2. The order subtotal (highlighted in red)
  3. A button for editing the cart (in case too many copies were added)
  4. Another button for proceeding to checkout (highlighted in yellow)
  5. An offer for exclusive financing
  6. A list of recommended and related products

One thing that seems to be missing from this page is an option to continue shopping. However, since Amazon includes so many rows of recommended and related products (four to be exact), this page effectively becomes the “continue shopping” experience. Instead of taking people back to a store, Amazon brings the store to people and offers related and recommended books on this checkout page. They also include the highly visible search bar at the top of the page so visitors can search for another product if they desire to do so.

Even though there isn’t a clear call to action to continue shopping, which most businesses use to get customers to buy more products, Amazon does a great job of bringing related products to customers’ attention, while still keeping them moving forward in the shopping experience so that they don’t move backwards to continue shopping only to become fatigued or to lose interest. It makes a lot of sense to offer related products here and to encourage shoppers to check out if that’s what’s on their mind.

Since checking out happens to be the next step, I’m going to click “Proceed to checkout” to continue this review.

Signing in or Checking out as a Guest

The next page provides the option of signing in or checking out as a guest. Normally, I’d sign in with my Amazon account so that all of my purchasing information on file can be automatically used, but in this case, since I don’t want the whole world to see my purchasing information (sorry, the line has to be drawn somewhere), I’m going to check out as a guest. This also is good for the review since it shows the perspective of a first-time or non-frequent buyer.

It’s noticeable on this page that the checkout button says “Sign in using our secure server.” This text assures customers that their transaction is secure, and it’s a great way to allay any fears customers may have about shopping security.

After entering a fake e-mail address, I’m going to click “Sign in using our secure server” in order to check out as a guest.

Note: The next page asks me to register with Amazon, and I’m going to skip this step since it’s pretty standard and is quite boring.

Shipping Information

The next page after signing up for a new account asks for shipping information and includes most of the standard shipping and address information.

One of the things that I notice about this page is that it includes a step-by-step update of the checkout process at the top of the page. This includes “Sign in,” “Shipping & Payment,” “Gift-Wrap,” and “Place Order.” As each step is completed or is being completed, that step is shaded in with the Amazon orangish brown.

This is a great way to show customers how many more steps are required for checking out, and it’s something that every website should include. It’s easy for customers to become fatigued online, and this step-by-step feature is a great way to make sure customers don’t become disoriented and leave the shopping experience because they don’t know what’s coming next and how much longer it will take to check out.

This page also includes a question asking if this shipping address is the same one that’s used for billing. With a simple yes or no click on radio-style button, Amazon makes it easy to indicate whether or not the shipping and billing addresses are the same, saving customers the extra time of filling out their contact information again.

Next step, clicking “Continue” to proceed.

Shipping Options

The next page provides the following shipping options: standard shipping (3-5 business days), FREE two-day shipping with a free trial of Amazon Prime, Two-day shipping, and one-day shipping.

It’s interesting to note that Amazon does not show the cost of any of the shipping options. Most businesses would show how much shipping costs on this page, but for some reason Amazon avoids it. It’s possible they’ve found that more people click through when shipping costs are not included on this page since shipping can frequently be a deal breaker online.

Amazon also provides a check box to indicate if this item is being ordered as a gift. Checking this box provides an option later in the checkout process to customize the order in order to personalize the gift.

Another thing that’s noticeable about this page is the fact that each of Amazon’s checkout pages are stripped of any extra information and links. Instead of keeping customers in the store and giving them options to click around and add items to the cart, Amazon removes any type of distraction and focuses the entire page on moving the customer forward through the shopping experience. There are no extra links that can potentially distract customers and derail them from completing their order. This is critical for increasing conversion rates in any online shopping experience.

After choosing “standard shipping,” I’m going to click “Continue.”

Payment Options

The next step is to choose a preferred payment method. The options include: Credit or Debit cards, gift cards and promotional codes, Amazon Store card, and checking account. I’m a little surprised by the checking account option, but everything else is standard.

This page also includes a “Continue” button with the following text below it: “You can review this order before it’s final.” This extra text may seem simple, but it helps to assure customers that they won’t be charged until they’ve completed a final review of their cart. This is helpful because customers need an opportunity to double check the cart before checking out.

Reviewing the Order

The next page (and final page for me) is the “Review Your Order” page. This page gives customers the option to review their order and make sure everything is correct. It includes shipping information, billing information, estimated delivery date, an order summary, and the option to change shipping speed.

One thing that stands out to me is that I don’t remember being shown the cost for shipping until this page. As mentioned before, shipping cost is often a deal breaker, so Amazon has sneakily waited until this final checkout page to show me how much shipping will cost. Since I intended to buy the book anyway, I’m ok with it, but Amazon may be onto something here by not showing shipping cost to soon. It will be interesting to see if more online retailers begin using this method in the near future.

Since the shipping information is fake so this book would be shipped to someone else, I’m going to bow out at this point in the shopping process and wait to buy the book later.

Final Review

The Amazon shopping experience is very complete and advanced. Amazon does an excellent job of recommending related products to customers, and they do a great job of streamlining the process in order to get customers through the checkout process.

One thing that stands out is how stripped down and ugly the Amazon checkout pages are. Amazon is the #1 online retailer, but their checkout pages are super simple and even a little ugly. What this shows is that function should come over form when shepherding customers through the checkout process, and any links that can derail people from checking out should be removed.

I’m impressed with the Amazon shopping experience starting with the small and simple but effective mini shopping cart on the homepage and ending with how well Amazon gets people through the simplified, stripped down checkout pages. Anyone who is interested in improving an online store should spend some time to study Amazon and learn what works for them because it’s clear that Amazon is the online retail industry leader for a reason.