Myth #20: If it works for Amazon, it will work for you

Although Amazon (or Apple, Google you name it) has features that are both excellent and well-proven, they won’t necessarily work for others.

Let’s take their widely used customer reviews for example. Jared Spool demonstrates that, despite using the exact same software and interface, receives way less reviews than Amazon: in the first month after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, Amazon got 1 805 reviews, whereas Target received only three (both retailers sold about 2 million copies).

Emulation is mostly not a smart strategy. It doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t copy the design of others — by all means do. But make sure you also understand why it worked for them and how it will work for your company and your users.


Why copying Amazon can be dangerous?

  • Jared Spool discusses the aforementioned Target customer review fiasco in his presentation Revealing Design Treasures from the Amazon (the Target example starts on slide 26).
  • Christian Holst summarizes the different reasons why copying Amazon might be harmful – The “Just Copy Amazon” Fallacy
  • Jakob Nielsen writes that “copying successful designs is not a foolproof way to improve your own site’s business value […] and has many pitfalls” in Should You Copy a Famous Site’s Design?
    In another article, he shows the weak points of Amazon’s design and why most sites shouldn’t copy it. – Amazon: No Longer the Role Model for E-Commerce Design
  • The Nielsen Norman Group has a video on the topic: Risk of Copying Famous Companies’ Designs
  • Linda Bustos explains the top reasons why your website cannot compare to Amazon: Amazon is one of the biggest websites in terms of traffic and user base. It can afford to sell some items below cost and even allows third-party ads and items on its product pages (cannibalizing its own sales). It also has enough users for features like reviews or Listmania. – 10 Reasons Not to Copy Amazon, a brilliant read.
  • A study found that “was perceived in the usability testing to have the slowest home page loading speeds of the 20 websites studied, and to have one of the most confusing home pages. But users said before and after the website testing that they were likely to use and/or recommend Amazon to a friend.
    ‘Amazon had already been visited by 71% of the usability testers,’ notes Ms. Frank, ‘so the familiarity with the site and the strong brand recognition were able to overcome flaws that would have been the kiss of death to lesser known websites.’”
  • Adrian Roselli lists quite a few further examples of how Google, Apple and others make ordinary mistakes, just like any other company – I Don’t Care What Google or Apple or Whoever Did
  • Jesse Weaver dissects YouTube’s strategy built “around what everyone else was doing” and how it failed with their subscription platform, Premium — Emulation Is Not a Product Strategy
  • Joshua Porter argues that mindlessly copying a design – that of Amazon or Facebook for example – is a horrible idea. When you copy, you don’t know the reasons behind a design, you’re not responding directly to your customer needs, you’re devaluing your own data. – Copycat Design
  • Rob Sutcliffe writes that “We could argue back that Amazon is surviving on past success and that larger company are often hard to innovate so shouldn’t be used as a design influence. We could point out that Jeff Bezos has a reputation for micro-managing and ignoring the evidence provided by usability experts he has hired. As a result, we could point out that Amazon is possibly successful in spite of its design not because of it. But the words ‘often’, ‘reputation’ and ‘possibly’ make all these arguments equally week and full of fallacies.” – Logical Fallacies In Design Critiques
  • All that said, copying or stealing a design cleverly is what designers should do. As Pablo Picasso put it: “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” – Don’t Copy a Design – Steal It, also quoted in Great designers steal by Jeff Veen.