Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Is Obsessed

There was a very interesting article in this past Saturday’s New York Times called Put Buyers First? What a Concept.  The author, Joe Nocera, wrote about how Amazon sent him a free replacement Playstation 3 (even though Amazon wasn’t at all to blame for the problem). I’m not sure if all firms should be shipping $500 items to every customer with his problem, but it probably makes sense if the customer is a writer for the New York Times :-)
[Take a look at "crowd mining" in the "required skills" section of my previous post: Trend Watch 2008 Wrap-Up]

In the article there was a great quote by Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos:

“And the reason I’m so obsessed with these drivers of the customer experience is that I believe that the success we have had over the past 12 years has been driven exclusively by that customer experience. We are not great advertisers. So we start with customers, figure out what they want, and figure out how to get it to them.”

My take: Well said! Bezos’ obsession with customer experience is what helped Amazon do so well in Forrester’s Customer Experience Rankings (they wound up 9th out of 112 firms).

The bottom line: I really like Jeff’s last sentence that paraphrases the mantra of Scenario Design: Who are your target customers? What are their goals? How can you help them accomplish those goals?

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

36 Responses to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Is Obsessed

  1. Leigh says:

    What a load of hooey. I still have the email i sent to Bezos (or whoever answers his emails) asking for my ten dollars back for a downloadable book that i couldn’t get to work.

    While i was ‘referred’ to yet another customer service person and was eventually told that there was nothing they could do and they refused to refund me my money. Totally ticked off (particularly considering their customer first hooey) I emailed my address book and asked everyone to send an email to Bezos and his CSR asking to give Leigh her $10 back.

    It took until around person 15 before I got the “we’ll make an exception for you this one time” and I finally got my ten bucks back. I feel kinda ripped off now I didn’t get a playstation.

    (oh and in my email to Bezos I even found a quote very similar to the
    one in the times article)

  2. Bruce Temkin says:

    While I don’t want this blog to become a complaint board, Leigh’s experience provides a nice counterbalance to Joe’s. Lesson learned: Every company mistreats some customers.

    Take a look at my previous post: “The Customer Is Not Always Right — Now What?”

    http://experiencematters.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/the-customer-is-not-always-right-now-what/

    • lorne malen says:

      I bought an item from a seller on Amazon and the seller made a mistake with my address that was listed correctly on the Amazon site which caused the package to be lost for a period of time requiring extra costs incurred by me to find the package ( extra trip to the post office / one hour, as well long distance phone calls to post office to locate package). I requested seller compensate me for extra costs resulting from sellers mistake. Seller refused. I wrote feedback on Amazon site outlining what happened without any rudeness just the facts as they occurred. Seller posted a response accusing me of blackmail. I complained to Amazon who said there was nothing wrong with sellers response. I informed Amazon I was going to consult a lawyer regarding their responsibility for posting publicly a slanderous accusation. Amazon changed their opinion and removed all the comments concerning the sale including my feedback. There were no complaints regarding the feedback only concerning the response. I complained to Amazon that they were improperly skewing the sellers rating back to 100% ( the rating had been significantly reduced from my feedback as there were only 5 feedbacks previously). I asked Amazon why they removed my feedback when the only complaint was concerning the response and they refused to answer. I will never buy from Amazon again. If anyone would like the complete correspondence between myself the seller and Amazon of which there are lots so they can make up their own mind as to blame I would gladly forward the correspondence. I was e mailing with a couple of Amazon employees who answer Jeff Bezos e mail. At this point I am considering contact with the FTC as I believe Amazon has broken some Federal regulations concerning customer rights to information.

  3. Eric Levy says:

    Bruce,

    Just so. Leigh, I don’t know the circumstances of your experience (why the ebook didn’t work) but I had a similar trouble with an ebook. The problem turned out to be Adobe Reader and not Amazon. I recall (now, with embarrassment) yelling at the poor CSR at Amazon about it not working until he asked me whether I had checked to see if my Adobe Reader software had been enable for DRM materials. The fact that I didn’t know what he was talking about was pretty telling to him, and he did NOT take the opportunity to gloat. He did, however, give me an apparently super-secret customer service number at Adobe, and asked me to call him back if that didn’t fix it.

    Well, by golly, it did.

    My purpose wasn’t to be contrarian with your opinion, but to point out that customers are often NOT in the best position to troubleshoot complicated digital interactions, like my non-DRM enabled software.

    However, given that Amazon knew this was frequently a problem, arming the rep with that information and suggesting I fix my software problem was the best they could do given the circumstances.

  4. Leigh says:

    @ Eric

    Point well taken however, my point to Amazon – i followed their instructions to the letter and it still didn’t work. But, let’s just say for arguments sake that it was my fault….

    I still couldn’t get it to work.
    I still had to go out and buy the book bc I needed it.
    And I was still very unhappy as a long time Amazon customer.
    (I have only gone back to ordering from them in the past six months after a very long hiatus)

    What is the cost/benefit of giving me my $10 back vs. a very very unhappy customer who is going to email her entire network?

    I believed in Jeff Bezo’s vision – I have always admired his blah de blah – I just wanted to see him put his money where his mouth was.

    (and of course that is coming from someone who worked at one time as a waitress and at least twice took back orders I KNOW weren’t incorrect…when you live off tips to pay for your university tuition, the customer is ALWAYS right)

  5. Sara says:

    We had a good response to a customer service issue we had with Amazon. We use Amazon a LOT. Once we had ordered over 200 books in a single order, and were out of town, and had used a company credit card which needed to be verified, but as we were away and didn’t see our email to respond and verify, the order was automatically cancelled. We were very annoyed that the order wasn’t still in the system, and that we’d have to re-enter 200 books into the purchase list!

    A rep at Amazon.com went through and found the ISBN numbers for each of those books to simplify our re-entering them. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but someone at Amazon spent a lot of time looking up our 200 books.

    We have continued to have good experiences and responsive customer service on the very few times we’ve had a problem with an order. We always go to Amazon.com first when thinking of making any kind of online purchase, and happily recommend them and do so often.

    On the other hand, when we get bad service, or a company does something wrong, we are also very motivated to share that information with the general public! See an ongoing saga with Schuco (a German company that wants to move into the American market) that was very short sighted in how it treated its first US customers and dealers…

    http://replacementwindowdisasters.blogspot.com/

    So good and bad customer service get reported.

  6. Don M says:

    Nonsense. I am in the midst of sorting out a purchase with Amazon for $1700 Panasonic video camera where they are 100% at fault. I have spoken with their customer service dept. on 5 different occasions over the last 3 days for a total in excess of 3 hours, including a supervisor in Washington State. They say things like, “the computer system is at fault” or “our billing department needs to look at this but they cannot be contacted directly” or “I have not heard back from our billing dept”.
    Cause of issue was a glitch in their system that resulted in credit authorization getting garbled. Their system then resubmits for authorization which (properly) get rejected by credit card company. Throughout this I am told that their hands are tied and there is nothing they can do.
    Their infrastructure and “system” is not customer focused. Their customer service staff is inefficacious. Their system’s people have no imagination to dream up the countless ways their system can fail due to current design.
    Bezos’ obsession has, obviously, not filtered down to his staff or engineers.
    As I see it, their niche is that they avoid sales tax. If that erodes, they are in deep trouble. Customer service is obviously NOT their forte.

    My own take is that customer service should not be about solving put out fires but designing a system that avoids issues to begin with, ala Demming.

    Don M, New York

  7. Danie S Fowler says:

    I have had wonderful customer service experiences with Amazon, and once bought an item from a 3rd party vendor which was of very poor quality. After first attempting to work through the issue with the vendor, who refused to refund my money or pay the shipping costs of sending the items back to them, I contacted Amazon’s customer service. With no fuss whatsoever, the rep not only refunded my money, but also gave me a credit for the shippings costs I had incurred to send the items back. Not THAT is what I call excellent customer service!

  8. jeff says:

    Hopefully someone from Amazon.com will read this comment. I have been selling with Amazon for over two years, we were doing so well we were asked if we wanted an advanced selling account. I talked to the Amazon salesman at length and agreed when he told us that we could keep our old account so we could keep our old detail pages. Sells went up with the new account (over the past year) until a month ago we got an email from Amazon that we in violation having two selling accounts. I return the email saying the Amazon salesman said it was OK to do so. We contacted the salesman, after three phone calls and three emails, he email us saying we should do what every they asked. So we put in through regular channels a request to close the old account. seller-performance@amazon.com then terminated our account saying we had refused to make changes requested. A week later a guess a different part of Amazon sent an email asking which account we wanted close. I sent them an email saying to close the old one and asked them to tell the department who terminated our account. I also sent the sellercental four more emails asking to reinstate our account, but we have received no response. info@buddhasplace.com. Is there a manager I can talk to? Jeff

  9. Mark Wilson says:

    I’m sure that of Amazon’s millions of customers, there will always be some that are happy and some that are not. I have to say though that my recent interactions with Amazon (in the UK) have been excellent.

    A few months back, I bought a product through Amazon from a third party. When the product turned out to be a French model with a UK power converter I cancelled the order, but the retailer only refunded the item price – not the postage. Amazon’s A-Z guarantee covered the postage and I was not left out of pocket (although Amazon should do more to stamp out this sort of practice – see http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/2008/03/buyer-beware.htm).

    More recently, a camera that I bought from Amazon stopped working (see http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/2008/07/camera-warranty-not-worth-the-paper-its-written-on.htm). Amazon initially referred me to the manufacturer (Canon), who advised me to send it to an authorised repairer (at my cost) and they then said it had sand in it so it was not covered by the warranty. When I got the camera back, I opened it up and confirmed that some (very tiny) grains had been drawn back into the camera as the lens mechanism wound in – a design flaw. I then contacted Amazon, who sent me a replacement (at no cost to me – they offered a refund if I had preferred that) and even paid the postage for me to send the defective camera back to their returns centre.

    Some might say that Amazon acted beyond their obligations – after all, Canon had told me that the warranty didn’t apply in this case. The point is that I am now one very happy customer and I’m telling everyone how great Amazon have been. That is why it is worth putting in the effort with customer service – something that seems to be all too rare in 2008.

    Contacting Amazon via a web form is infuriating at times but, based on my recent experience, amazon.co.uk really do know how to deliver customer service (I can’t comment on amazon.com) and I felt that they should be given credit where credit is due.

  10. Scot Miller says:

    Hello,

    Just want to get it off my chest. I tried to purchase 4 DVS’s this evening and got totally frustrated. After 20 minutes of trying to figure out what I was doing wrong with my shopping cart,I wasted another 25 minutes on a phone call to (NAME DELETED), in your call center in India. The man was less than helpful and, as is customery with many of the personal I’ve had the displeasure to speak with, in this call center; very hard for me to understand. It took me 4 tries to understand how to spell the guy’s name which is ludicris, IMHO.

    I spent time looking for the DVD’s; another 20 minutes trying to figure out why I was getting free shipping on the 3 DVD’s I was going to send to a friend, but was having to pay shipping on the one I wanted to order for myself. So, after burning up an hour, I have nothing to show for it and a “VERY bad taste in my mouth” from the experience.

    If whoever reads this, if you even do, they might look at my many past purchases. I suppose I don’t buy enough from you people to even expect professional treatment and “real customer service”. I do understand customer service as I had my own business for over 25 years and I couldn’t have survived had I done it your way. Obviously it’s working well for you and I congratulate you for your success! As long as you don’t lose too many customers due to the nightmarish treatment and frustration, people like me have to be subjected to; in your minds I would make the assumption that you see there’s NO problem; especially as long as the Bottom line remains black. I now have to ask myself the hard question of why I’m supporting this ” All American Corporate Greed” by buying your products while getting less than bad service as well as supporting your companies, IMHO, lack of patriotism outsourcing jobs, while our own country and our own citizens are severely suffering? I wonder what your stock price would be without your seelling out for the almighty dollar? Instead of losing half it’s value in the past year you might have done worse. Or maybe BETTER if it were made WELL KNOW that you are supporting our country by providing jobs for the people here at home that are hurting so badly. I’m merely a totally disabled guy trying to make it, as so many are; being grateful to God that I am. It’s really unfortunate that this company that used to be so good is focused on the “money God” at the expense of so much!!

    I realize that all the Major Companies, and now some smaller ones, are doing the same thing so I guess it makes it right?

    I have dealt with this call center several times; sometimes ok but usually just a run around like I got tonight.

    I’ll be looking elsewhere to puchase the DVD”S and the books I buy. I’m only sorry that I have recommended Amazon to several friends who have purchased stuff from you knowing now that they have probably suffered the same poor, unintelligable, laxidaisical, no common sense, approach to customer service.

    I now understand that although I was spending $45+, I wasn’t allowed free shipping on my 1 DVD because I was trying to ship to multiple addresses and my order wasn’t for $25+, therefore, not meeting you SET IN CONCRETE free shipping policy. I believe that when I told (NAME DELETED) I will look for the DVD”S from other sources, he then offered to give a “generous” $4 credit for my next order. That’s quite a deal considering all the time I wasted trying to understand this guy, trying to figure out the shopping cart mess etc. Thanks anyway,

    sm

  11. An extremely strange thing happened to me today on Amazon, bordering on criminality. I’ve shopped with Amazon since 1995 and even used to talk regularly to Jeff from the UK. Hi Jeff. Anyhow I thought I’d treat myself to a new book today called The Birman Cat and was shocked to see that it was on sale – ‘New’ for $6.99 and ‘Used’ for $142.49 – so as I’d just bought a new kitten and needed that extra purchase to make up my postage to ‘Super Saver’ I pressed ‘Add’ the ‘New’ book and ‘Proceed to Checkout’? Well, apparently at that very same instant someone else got the same idea and seconds later as I entered my final page I noticed that I had ‘accidentally’ bought the 142 dollar book! Delete. Of course I was now trapped on this final page and couldn’t go back so quick as a flash I opened another page only to find, surprise, that the ‘New’ book at the reasonable cost had disappeared. (By the way I think disallowing people to continue shopping once they hit the final pages is primitive bordering on questionable practice) When I spoke to the instant Amazon representative by telephone she very smoothly found the answer – what probably happened was that some other customer had spotted the bargain and bought the book out from under me. Damn – I suggested to her that someone at Amazon might have spotted the mighty price discrepancy and ‘pulled’ the $6.99 book, changing my order without notice and in panicky manner. ‘No, no very sorry.’ In fact come to mention it she did not deny it – just said sorry. Someone, Jeff or senior rep please tell me what is going on?

    • Bruce Temkin says:

      Margaret: Interesting. It could have been an honest error, a purposeful mistake, or a gremlin. With the volume of orders that Amazon processes, some of them are bound to be a “little off.” Maybe a reader of my blog from Amazon will shed some light on this. More likely, however, is that this remains a mystery for the ages.

  12. S Huston says:

    I have to agree with the first comment that the claim to be focuesed on customer services is not true. We were actually trying to pay for an order when they put the account on hold. We were in constant communication via faxes and phone numbers and were kept in a vicious circle. Call this number, “we can’t help you our Account Specialist will call you in 24 hours”, 24 hours, email received saying call us, call the number, “we can’t help you…” So on and so on. Finally expressing our frustration with the situation we then do not receive a call back and are then told our account has been closed. Now is this because we told them that they were not behing helpful… seems vengeful to me. Now the account can not be re-opened and all history etc. is lost. Can not access order any more.

    So what part of this company ranks them number 1 in customer service? is this customer centric? Seems to me that the American consumer better brace itself for another downgrade of service because if this is the #1 Service company it stinks!

  13. Lizzy says:

    I just bought an Asus Eee netbook from Amazon.com about 2 weeks ago and now they are selling it for a $100 less. I asked for a price adjustment but they refused to do it. I would have gotten a price adjustment in a brick-and-mortar store! To top it off, I just spent over $1000 at Amazon within the last 2 weeks, so I am a good and loyal customer to boot! So, I am going to return all my purchases to Amazon for their lousy treatment of their loyal and very good customer!

    • loveamazon says:

      Lizzy, you made the decision to purchase the laptop at the price listed, why should they have to adjust the price? What’s is the refund policy for the item that was purchased? Can’t you just return it and purchase the lower cost item? That’s how it works at the brick-and-mortar store. If they have a return policy, follow it and purchase the lower priced item, otherwise they shouldn’t have to refund your money because the manufacturer decided to drop the price.

  14. Lizzy says:

    Oh, I forgot to add that I am definitely NOT buying anymore from Amazon.com, no matter how great or cheap their stuff is! I rather pay more elsewhere than to spend my money at a place where they don’t appreciate their loyal customer for the last 7 years!

  15. lizzy says:

    I don’t have to sever my relationship with Amazon after all! I wrote to Jeff Bezos and he had his customer relations executive write back to give me the price adjustment. So, that was cool! However, the reasons for stopping the 30-days price guarantee that was given was rather lame! All the CSR exec said was that Amazon did not discontinue the policy “willy nilly” and it was for the well-being of the customers. Could have done better with the reasons, but I am happy to get my adjustment!

  16. mr.longpants says:

    that Amazon farms out their “Customer Service” (NOT) to India is criminal. Amazon has the WORST “Customer Service (NOT!) in the industry

  17. Amazon’s conduct regarding their Kindle DX release merely 60 days after their Kindle 2 release is unbecoming and borderline abusive. They ridiculously, hilariously and with blatant deception have the audacity to use the marketing slogan; “We’re Building Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company” – excuse the hell out of me? Are they really to be taken seriously? They market a product as their newest & greatest thing with big Fan Fair while at the exact same time they purposefully & unethically withhold product information on a very similar “new new” item (Kindle DX) they’ve already designed, manufactured and slated for public release only 60 days later, with a full and complete awareness that IF their “consumer centric company” was actually forthright in offering their “valued customers” an honest choice between the Kindle 2 & Kindle DX, they may have initially sold fewer Kindle 2s, right? Their chief marketing officer and CEO are both, in my opinion, guilty of deceptive marketing practices and unethical customer communications, all in the pursuit of very shortsighted profits for their “new” release.

    They “got me” and my wife for almost $1,000 for the purchase of two (2) Kindle 2s and two Kindle cases, while witholding relevant new regarding their impending Kindle DX release. Funny thing is, they would have received an additional $250 from me and my wife had they simply been honest and let me know about both Kindle options.

    I commit I’ll do my very best to communicate my voice of dissatisfaction as loudly as possible via my local newspaper editorials, my personal blogs, my company website, LinkedIn.com, Kindle Nation and every personal interaction I have in the future.

    Amazon responded to me, “We don’t have an option to upgrade your Kindle to a Kindle DX at this time. I’m sorry if that’s disappointing news.” Well, I don’t have an option to limit my aggressive public marketing campaign to discredit your organization’s marketing practices. I’m sorry if that’s dissappointing news to Amazon.

    Written by a former Amazon.com Prime customer

    • Bruce Temkin says:

      Rob: It’s interesting (sad) that Amazon’s rollout decision has turned you from a product advocate into a dissatisfied customer. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  18. Wanda Brooks says:

    I purchased a Skagen Watch 30 days ago for a friend and it stopped working yesterday. I’ve been informed that I can not get it replaced but instead, I have to deal with the warranty. I made the purchase from YOU and not the 3rd party vendor and would like a refund or the watch replaced. Had I purchased the watch from a local retailer, I would not have to deal with this type of service and/or inconvenience. As a matter of fact, my friend did not know where I purchased the watch and went into a local department store to replace it. Without hassle, they proceed to do the exchange but upon realizing that the numbers reflected that the watch wasn’t purchased from them, they were not able to.
    I would appreciate a phone call from Jeff Bezos or someone on his behalf to discuss getting a refund and/or the watch replaced. Having to deal with a warranty for a 30 day old watch that no longer works is totally unacceptable. Amazon failed to disclose this information when I made the purchase and had they, I would have not purchased the watch on-line.
    I can be reached at 847-341-0069 or 847-402-5513.

  19. Mike says:

    Wow lots of grumbling over here. I just found this article in a search and I must say I dont have any problems with Amazon.

  20. Walter W. Trimble says:

    I bought a Frigidaire dehumidifer through an Amazon third-party seller named TheFactoryDepot. The unit weighs 50+ pounds and was shipped UPS. I paid about $180 for the unit and $50 for shipping. The unit is defective. I’ve spent the past month trying to get a different unit. Contacted Frigidaire first. They don’t repair the units and won’t replace mine, even though it is under warranty, claiming it is the seller’s responsibility. Called TheFactoryDepot and they told me to return it to Frigidaire. I told them Frigidaire wouldn’t replace it. About two weeks later, TheFactoryDepot agreed to take the unit back, but I had to pay the cost of return shipping. UPS said about $75. I reported this to Amazon through their so-called “A-to-Z Guarantee” and they told me the same thing. The seller will replace the unit, but I have to pay the cost of shipping the defective one back. So I’m out $75 in this transaction. What I’ve learned is this: DON’T BUY ANYTHING BIG OR HEAVY THROUGH AMAZON.COM unless you are willing to pay for return shipping if it is defective. After spending upwards of $15,000 at Amazon.com over the past couple of years, I won’t buy anything there again except CDs. I’ll use a local retailer for these purchases.

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  25. Renee W. says:

    I just sent Jeff Bezos the following letter (it will explain the lousy treatment I received today at the hands of Amazon’s customer service reps):

    Dear Mr. Bezos:

    On December 9, 2009 I placed an Order on Amazon for two toys known as ChixOs Design A Luxury Loft. The price I paid for each toy was $9.98. Today I went on Amazon and took note that these same items were now selling for $7.98 each. I thereupon called Customer Service at Amazon and asked that they credit me $4.00, for the price differential on both items ($2.00 each).

    I was first placed with a customer representative who insisted that Amazon would not make a price adjustment, despite the fact that my original order had been placed two days prior. I indicated to the representative that I wished to speak to her supervisor. A supervisor then got on the phone and reiterated the pronouncement that price differentials were not being credited by Amazon. He gave me some crazy reasoning about cost to seller for items changing on a day to day basis, thus causing price changes on a day to day basis. I noted in response that this made no sense at all since every retailer I know will honor price changes within a thirty day period of time (I cited to Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Sears, you name the store). And I further noted that Amazon has historically done price adjustments as well, because I have availed myself of this service a multiple of times in the past (you will note that I have been an active Amazon shopper since 1999).

    I asked the supervisor to mark my file with my denied request because it was my intention to contact Amazon’s Chairman about this matter.

    Mr. Bezos, I have been a loyal and active customer of Amazon for years, and it strikes me as odd that during these difficult economic times Amazon is so cavalier in tossing customer concerns out the window. I am hoping that you will arrange to make this adjustment to my account. Furthermore, if indeed there has been a change in policy I would ask that you seriously reconsider a return to the policy that had always been in effect. This apparent new policy has a very chilling effect on customer trust as well as customer willingness to continue buying at Amazon, if the customer cannot be assured of getting the best price within a reasonable period of time of placing an order.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

  26. lawrence says:

    Lawrence M
    Jeff Bezos has always been considered a genius in business. How come such a genius could think cheating his own client base with hidden fees wouldn’t be discovered still beats my imagination.

    Amazon doesn’t care about customer care. Check out the comments on the net on the USD 79.00 Prime membership charge… Internet shopping is based on trust… Mr. Bezos of all people should know that. That trust is eroding. History tells us that trust disappears, profits follow suit. It is only a question of time.

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  28. Maurice says:

    Hi Guys,

    Got a story you might be interested in. It’s about the current state of Amazon.com’s usability for international buyers, and a proposed redesign for their product pages. I won’t waffle on so please take a look at the source if you’re interested:

    Redesign:
    http://www.kintek.com.au/demo/amazon/index.html

    Source:
    http://www.kintek.com.au/web-design-blog/amazons-terrible-international-usability-and-a-proposed-redesign/

    Regards,
    Maurice Kindermann

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