Amazon and sustainability: a local change

Masters final project · UX Research

Duration: 4 semanas

For this project I used low scale methodologies in order to obtain findings and insights to work with the tools and methodologies acquired during the masters. At the end I will put what would I have done differently if I had the resources.

This research is mainly about Amazon Spain and Spanish customers. Although in my desk research I also explored English speaking users, especially from the US, but then I contrasted this information with user interviews and surveys from Spanish users to understand if these opinions were global or only coming from one country.


Introduction

Amazon is the leading marketplace in the world thanks to their fast delivery services that they perform themselves. But they are more than that: not only they have their own product line but they also work in areas different from the marketplace like AWS, Prime Video, Twitch or Audible.

Problem

Amazon currently has reputation problem. Even if they defend a change to sustainability and say to support their workers, media tells another story. And this affects directly to public opinion. Among the most talked about problems in media are:

  • Greenwashing.
  • Monopoly.
  • Workers discrimination and exploitation.

Goals

Amazon wants to regain the trust of their consumers who are increasingly more sustainable and at the same time improve their reputation. They want their platform to represent the sustainable and ethical values that they support. The goal of this research is to redesign their services and digital platforms.

Process and methods

Given to the limitations of time, I used the first part of the double diamond process for this work. No iteration, just an initial approach, exploration, answers to the main questions and a strategic approach at the end. This was a generative research, in which the hypothesis is no well defined from the beginning and I have been defining it as the research progressed.

More information about the approach and research methods

Initial evaluation

During the initial evaluation, I started defining the challenge with the project briefing and the main objectives as well as how I was going to start delving into the problem.

Exploration check

During the exploration check I was looking for a hypothesis to validate.

  • I started the exploration with a secondary research in the news and forums to know the opinion of the users and obtain more information about the new services offered by Amazon and how they are represented by the media.
  • Then, I conducted semi-structured interviews with users to go deeper into these findings.

Answers to questions

Here I’m looking for answers to the questions from the hypothesis and the initial questions.

  • Desk research: forums, market studies, statistics and news.
  • Surveys: investigate the hypothesis in depth and get to know better the main users involved in the hypothesis. Search for pain points and insights for further research.

Strategic approach/ deliverables

Visualization of the process followed by users with UX maps:

  • User personas
  • User journey: to develop this map, I perform a Kano analysis to check which features could the new product incorporate and if the users would be interested in them.
  • HOW-NOW-WOW ideation matrix. Being a technology company with a big budget, I thought that it was important to give solutions for the technological future in which we find ourselves.

Semi-structured interviews

At the beginning of the research, after having done some desk research Amazon reviews on social media, I decided to conduct some interviews, mainly to contrast this information coming from American English speakers that I found on forums and see if Spanish users thought in a similar way.

OBJECTIVE

With semi-structured interviews, my intention was to know first-hand the perception of Amazon’s users, to know their consumption habits and to go deeper into the topic of sustainability and big marketplaces and companies like Amazon. With the obtained information, I wanted to find out if there were any pain points to move forward with the research and decide which direction to take and complete the information obtained in the netnography.

USERS

I interviewed 2 users between 28 and 34 years old. Ideally, I would have liked to interview between 3 and 5 users to get more insights, but due to the lack of time, I completed these insights with the netnography of forums and social networks.

QUESTIONS

  • On consumer habits
  • The meaning of sustainability
  • Marketplace shopping: problems they have ever encountered.
  • Opinion on Amazon

Surveys

Throughout the research process I conducted two surveys.

Amazon buyers survey

OBJECTIVE

In order to get quantitative data that allowed me to see clearer the perception of Amazon, I conducted a short survey where users rated Amazon. I also included an acknowledgement question for one of their services that I wanted to focus on, Amazon Handmade.

USERS

The users for this survey were open to everyone.

QUESTIONS

In the first part, I asked if they were aware of “Amazon Handmade” service and if they were aware of it, it would follow with the question “if they I had shopped there”

In the second part, I added a survey with numerical values, Likert (1 lowest score and 5 the highest one) to find out how they rated the following aspects of Amazon, in which I included sustainability. The aspects I chose were mentioned in the interviews I conducted and the desk research:

  • Transport and shipping
  • Customer service
  • Sustainability
  • Pricing
  • Products
  • Values

Survey to creative sellers

After discovering users’ perceptions, the hypothesis I wanted to validate was based on local vendors or freelance creatives. I chose surveys because it was easier to reach the sellers even though I would have liked to do more in-depth semi-structured interviews.

OBJECTIVE

The objective was to learn about the selling habits of independent creatives, their experience selling on marketplaces and to discover their needs when selling products online.

USERS

Independent creatives.

QUESTIONS

The questions were designed depending on what the user answered, so they would get a follow up question according to their answer:

  • If they had a website.
  • Sales channels.
  • If they had sold or are selling on a marketplace and their reasons why they liked it or disliked it (pros and cons).

Desk research

NETNOGRAPHY

I did some research on forums and social media comments about users’ thoughts on Amazon and their personal experiences with the platform.

OBJECTIVE

It seemed like a good way to quickly learn about the different feelings users may have towards Amazon and also help me predict what kind of comments and behaviors I may come across in interviews and dig deeper about those feelings with better questions.

ESTUDIOS DE MERCADO

OBJECTIVE

I looked for data in market studies to support my hypothesis and to go deeper with quantitative data. These studies had to do with:

  • Amazon and small business.
  • Digital consumers
  • Habits of sustainable consumers
  • New forms of consumption
  • Online marketplaces and ecommerces

GOOGLE TRENDS

OBJECTIVE

Google Trends helped me to obtain search data from users. I found this information interesting to know if it is a temporary trend, seasonal or if it has a future to evolve.

STATISTICS

OBJECTIVE

In Statista I obtained more specific statistics for specific services such as Etsy and get direct information on the evolution of the competitor.

In this case it was useful to know how many sellers and buyers were using the platform in the last two years to understand if it was a trend to take into consideration.

NEWS ARTICLES

OBJECTIVE

I needed to keep up with the latest from Amazon since they don’t update their own website with their latest projects as frequently as a newspaper. Also, a newspaper article can reach more users and affect public opinion, so it was interesting to see from which position newspapers wrote about Amazon.

Also to read reports about marketplaces in general and other competitors.

Kano analysis

When I was designing the User Journey, I decided to perform a Kano analysis to evaluate which functionalities are the best valued by users to solve part of the pains and what the final product should or should not have.

I evaluated different parts depending on the user (independent creative and local vendor). I used this type of question to refer to each functionality: “How would you feel if this service was available?” and “How would you feel if it was not available?”

The two user personas I used were the freelance creative and the local marketer.

INDEPENDENT CREATIVE

  • Being able to take photos and retouch them within the platform. Amazon only lets you upload product photos with white background and not all creatives have the tools to do this.
  • Immediate assistance with an expert via chat.
  • Adding and edit product videos.
  • Being able to complete a product description through the computer. Start it in the app and finish it on the computer.
  • Publishing a product later and not at the same time when you finish writing it.
  • Sending your own products to a warehouse so that they are in charge of sending the product every time there is an order.
  • Explanatory videos within the platform to show everything that can be done within it.
  • Chat with customers.

Comercio local

  • Being able to connect physical and online store stock.
  • Sending your own products to a warehouse so that the platform takes care of the shipment every time there is an order.
  • Setting up calls with experts every time you have a problem.
  • Explanatory videos on the different functionalities and how to use them for your business.
  • Autocompleted information when adding a product identification number.
  • Chat with customers.

Benchmark

I decided to do a benchmark to evaluate the value proposition of Amazon Handmade’s closest competitors, in this case Etsy and Wallapop, and the message they convey through their website and how the user might interpret it.

What did I assess?

  • Is the type of message they communicate more commercial or emotional?
  • How they define themselves, what words they use to describe what they do.
  • What is the sales and shipping process like.
  • Key aspects where each company focus on.
  • Platforms they use.

Research questions

INITIAL QUESTIONS

  • Why do users shop on Amazon?
  • How do sellers perceive Amazon?
    • What are the most common problems on Amazon?
    • Do users value Amazon as a sustainable company?
  • How do users define a sustainable company?
  • Have they bought products from small businesses on Amazon?
  • What are other more sustainable marketplaces doing? What image do users have of them?

These initial research questions evolved after the hypothesis was defined:

Could Amazon respond to an increasingly sustainable public by giving more importance to smaller retailers?

AFTER DEFINING THE HYPOTHESIS

  • Are users familiar with Amazon Handmade and have they ever shopped there?
  • Are there local online marketplaces in Spain? Any precedents?
  • What would Amazon have to do for small businesses to decide to sell their products on the platform?
  • How can we improve the small business-Amazon relationship?
  • What are the needs of sellers in an online marketplace?
  • What problems do sellers experience in online marketplaces?

Target audience

This would be the target audience that Amazon has or would like to attract and that must be taken into account in order to obtain their opinions for the study:

  • Users who currently shop on Amazon
  • Users who have stopped shopping on Amazon
  • Creative freelancers who sell on Amazon or other marketplaces
  • Local small business sellers
  • Users who have never shopped on Amazon
  • Users who care about sustainability
  • Users who shop at any of the competitors

Insights

  1. General users continue to shop at Amazon even if they do not agree with its practices.
  2. Amazon’s image is hard to break.
  3. Commissions are a deciding factor for sellers.
  4. Sustainability = local markets.
  5. Users are not familiar with Amazon Handmade.
  6. Users are tired of seeing copies.

The sustainable consumer

A more sustainable buyer

According to a study conducted by Ipsos, Hotware Spain and Wallapop, “La Red del Cambio” (2021):

56% Z Gen

Between 16 and 23 years old. They are the most environmentally conscious.

52% Baby Boomers

Between 55 and 60 years old. They are the second.

48% millennials and 50% Gen X.

They don’t trust sustainable labels

During the interviews, I found that people were skeptical of companies’ sustainable practices, especially the larger they were.

“Many companies invent certificates that say absolutely nothing.”

They do not trust companies and their messages.

“I don’t think we can trust companies because they are always going to be looking for profitability.”

*Respuestas a las entrevistas

This distrust already questions Amazon’s veracity with any sustainable theme they present.

Suggestion

Blockchain technology can be applied to the registration of products to know the whole process from where it was manufactured to the intermediaries involved. All this information can be of interest to customers seeking transparency in the origin of their products.

Sustainability = local markets

  • As they don’t trust the sustainable practices of large companies, they often prefer local markets.
  • According to a study conducted by Sendcloud (2021), 63% of online shoppers prefer to buy from local stores after COVID.

“a company can be sustainable but they are very small and they do not do much harm to the world”.

“a sustainable company manufactures with natural raw materials, employs local people, and does not pollute.”

“I would believe it more if it were a local business or a smaller store.”

* Respuestas de las entrevistas

Why do they shop on Amazon? Do they consider Amazon sustainable?

Convenience

Product variety

Lower prices

“I always try not to buy from Amazon when the alternative is more or less easy.”

They buy despite acknowledging that it is not sustainable

According to my survey of Amazon users, sustainability receives the lowest score:

However, users recognize that there are no better and more sustainable alternatives to Amazon and the convenience offered by Amazon is not found elsewhere.

“There are simply no good alternatives. Funnily enough the market in recent years has begun to favor socially conscious companies, but no socially conscious company can have the broad reach fast turn around time, price of Amazon”

“Convenience > employees being treated better. Sad but true”

*Reddit users

What are the most common problems in Amazon?

No trust in the quality of the products they sell

Amazon sells many copies of products from China much cheaper so the quality drops more and it is difficult to trust them.

“There’s a lot of counterfeit or Chinese knockoff stuff too”

“Many third companies sell actual broken trash or lie in the description and Amazon does nothing to stop it”

*Reddit users

Suggestion

Blockchain technology is also helping to crack down on product copies and scams by identifying a product as original.

Have users purchased any handmade or local products on Amazon?

Users are unaware of Amazon Handmade

  • In the survey I conducted, 90% of the users did not know about Amazon Handmade.
  • However, in the semi-structured interviews, users admitted they had bought a local or handmade product on Amazon.

Amazon Handmade is not visible anywhere in the home page.

In order to find Amazon Handmade, users have to go to the menu on the left and keep looking inside until they find the section. It was barely visible to the user.

Doing a search on the search bar for “handmade” products doesn’t give you a genuine handmade result from the platform. Often, you have to trust that it is handmade, and that it is not just a way to advertise the product.

Suggestion

Make the “Amazon Handmade” section visible in the home page, either in the menu or with a banner that attracts the user’s attention. Advertise Handmade sellers in the home page.

Amazon Handmade does not change user perception

“Amazon Handmade is like McDonald’s having gourmet food.”

This is the big problem with Amazon. It is very difficult for users to change their opinion of the service, even though “Amazon Handmade is a different service. And this is because Amazon brand is well defined with values that do not represent “Amazon Handmade”.

Suggestion

Create a new Amazon Handmade app with a completely different design than the current Amazon. A more minimalist and approachable design. It will help people to distance it from Amazon and it will be easier for their opinion to be softened. Oriented to give more visibility to small businesses.

Benchmark – competitor analysis

The users I interviewed identified “Etsy” and “Wallapop” as sustainable marketplaces. So I used them to compare their services with those of Amazon Handmade.

Etsy is the closest competition to Amazon Handmade, while Wallapop is a Spanish marketplace for selling second-hand products, a business also on the rise.

Their messages are more commercial: “Handmade products and handcrafted gifts. Shop our favorite finds.”More emotional messages: “Find things to fall in love with. Support independent sellers.”It focuses on the end user’s intent “What are you looking for today?”
Vendors are referred to as “artisans”.“A community doing good”. They are not a company, they consider themselves a community.The home is focused on selling, not attracting sellers.
They have warehouses of their own to facilitate shipping to their vendors.They don’t have warehouses, sellers supply their products directly to the end consumer.The entire transaction is carried out by the sellers, although a delivery person may come to your home to get the product.
They want their fast shipment to stand out from their services.They also emphasize privacy within the platform and customer support.They have a featured products section.
They mainly have a website although they also have an app but only a main one for all of Amazon.They have a website and an app.Mainly by app although they also have a website.

Etsy

  • In Spain, as in the rest of the world, Google searches for Etsy skyrocketed during the confinement.
  • The number of active sellers increased by 179% between 2019 and 2021.
  • The number of active buyers also increased by 107% between 2019 and 2021.

Amazon can improve its image by giving more visibility to “Amazon Handmade” and supporting local businesses.

Insights

Users identify sustainability with local and businesses.

Pain points

Amazon does not give visibility to small businesses inside its platform. It has some interesting lines like “Amazon Handmade” and “Amazon local” (in other countries) but they are not visible to the user.

Sellers are also Amazon customers, without them Amazon would not exist.

We will focus on providing a better experience for sellers

Side hustle – monetizing hobbies

“Side hustle” has a volume of 590 monthly searches in Spain.

  • The side hustle is a term that refers to performing an economic activity apart from your usual work.
  • In the USA, having a side hustle is quite popular. 34% of Americans have a “side hustle” according to a study conducted by Zapier in 2021, and we see that this concept is also spreading in Spain.

Etsy is one of the most used platforms to monetize the creative hobbies.

Independent creators

I conducted a survey of independent creators to find out in which media they sell and their opinions about marketplaces.

  • All of them had their own website but they admit that it is not easy for potential customers to find them through Google.
  • A marketplace can be the perfect place for potential customers and sellers to find each other.
  • Those who no longer sell on a marketplace were mainly due to high fees.

I researched independent creators on forums and found that the fees issue was quite common and especially on Etsy. Users were not happy with this change.

Local retailers and Amazon in the world

  • Amazon USA has a local business section. However, we encounter the same problem of visibility and users cannot find this service from the home page, only if they search for it on Google.
    • In the landing page, users can access businesses in each region of the US and also by type of product.
  • In India, Amazon started a program focused to encourage local businesses to sell their products on the marketplace.
    • Also with the “Smart Commerce” program, they are helping to digitize these small businesses that are totally unknown in the digital world.

Local marketplaces in Spain

  • During and after the confinement, many regions and cities decided to create their own “local marketplaces” to deliver products to consumers without having to go to the store.
  • They did not work well for several reasons:
    • They did not advertise the platforms enough to bring it closer to the public.
    • Local businesses are not digitally savvy.

“To a local business who is used to being behind his counter, no matter if they offer him a virtual space to put his product, you have to help him prepare his catalog or how to carry out the registration of online sales, the logistics of shipping…”

“El Amazon local no funciona: el sueño frustrado de los marketplace en España”, Hipertextual (2021)

Suggestion

Facilitate the onboarding of salespeople less familiar with new technologies with specific courses, private consulting with experts or face-to-face workshops in the least digitized cities and areas of Spain.

Amazon as an ally of local commerce

  • More and more people are shopping online. According to a study by Sendcloud, 27% buy online once a week or more.
  • A PwC study on Amazon revealed that Spanish SMEs that sold through Amazon generated 805 million euros in 2020.
  • 27% of Spanish SMEs sell via e-commerce.

Amazon can help local businesses

  • It currently has programs to help these small businesses such as Seller University, Smart Commerce.
  • But these services are not very visible on its website for a user with little digital knowledge.

Suggestion

Offer digitization courses for small businesses not only online but also face-to-face workshops organized in different cities in Spain, especially those with a lower level of digitization. Collaborate with neighborhood commerce communities to digitize these small businesses.

PAIN POINTS

I found out the most common pain points among marketplaces through independent seller surveys and also through Etsy and Amazon forums.

High fees

Low product visibility

Little interaction with the customer

Lack of knowledge

A lot of time filling out product descriptions

Counterfeit

Etsy pain points

We can draw inspiration from competitors’ pain points to adapt them to a new service.

  • Not ready for services: Many sellers offer services through Etsy even though it was designed for physical products. Could this be a new line of business?
  • Downloading problems for digital products with the app.
  • Live chat functionality very slow and not very human.

Pain points de Amazon

  • Difficult to leave the platform: very long steps and they annoy sellers.
  • Little visibility for sellers: you have to work on the visibility of the products and Amazon Handmade is not very visible within the whole Amazon.
  • Very complicated to enter the selling system to sell: you have to prove that the products are handmade.
    • This is also positive as it controls the sale of counterfeit and industrial products.

UX Strategy

Ideation matrix: HOW-NOW-WOW

I have designed this matrix to see which solutions are more feasible in the short term and which can be an interesting bet for the future:

User personas

Ideal users

The main change will start with handmade and local vendors to improve the platform and attracting new users, in this case sellers which then will translate to more future consumers.

Activity

The selected task is the first on boarding on Amazon when they want to put a product for sale.

Opportunities

It has to be an easy and fast tool as sellers want to spend as little time as possible learning the platform and uploading their products.

Kano analysis

I conducted a Kano analysis to decide which features the new platform should have. I especially wanted to see which ones could be useful for sellers in the process of uploading a product to the marketplace. This would help me to understand which ones could be a solution to solve the pain points in the User Journey.

INDEPENDENT CREATIVE

FEATURESRATING
Chat with clientsMust be
Video featureUnidimensional
Publish laterAtractive
Edit photos on appAtractive
Video tutorialsOne-dimensional
Being able to complete the description on a computerOne-dimensional
Send products to a warehouseOne-dimensional
Chat assistanceOne-dimensional

LOCAL BUSINESS

FEATURERATING
Connect stockAtractive
Send to warehouseAtractive
Chat with clientsAtractive
Video tutorialsOne-dimensional
Autocomplete optionOne-dimensional
Call to expertsOne-dimensional

Customer Journey

Independent creative

Local seller