I read this blog post recently by Steve Chou titled “6 Reasons Why Copying Amazon Is A Bad Idea For Your Ecommerce Store”. It seemed to be a direct attack to what I teach in my best-selling book, “Amazon’s Dirty Little Secrets” and the follow up course, “Power+ Academy”. So I thought I should read it very carefully. It started out with this statement/question:

“Because Amazon.com is one of the most successful ecommerce stores in the world, we should all emulate exactly what they are doing right? The reality is that you can’t just go around blindly copying someone else even if they are selling the exact same products as you are. Sometimes, larger shops go with a certain design because of what is currently trendy.  Amazon is a different beast altogether. Sure, Amazon makes billions of dollars in sales but you can’t exactly compare a billion dollar store like Amazon to your puny little 6 or 7 figure shop.”

He then went on to explain why copying Amazon is a bad idea. Here are my thoughts:

1. Amazon Sells Millions Of Items, You Don’t

“First off, Amazon sells a bunch of random products. In fact, they sell everything! And when you sell everything, you have to make compromises in your design.

As a result, it’s literally impossible for Amazon to optimize their site for any one particular product. Therefore, Amazon has to choose a design that works better on average across their entire portfolio of products.”

Perhaps true, but not revolutionary.  The idea behind “Amazon’s Dirty Little Secrets” isn’t to blindly copy the design of their website, but to look at why they do certain things and make sure they work for you, so I don’t think we have an argument here.

2. Amazon Makes Money In Many Different Ways

“Amazon’s goals are most likely not inline with yours. Sometimes, they sell at 0 profit. Sometimes, they have negotiated such great payment terms that it makes sense for them to sell at cost and earn interest on the credit period from their vendors.

Sometimes, they make more money by listing and promoting an item that is sold by someone else. Sometimes, Amazon makes more money from their pay per click ads than their product listings.”

I agree – your goal is to actually make a profit with your website. So if a website is capable of making money in multiple ways, not just in the sale of your own products, it’s worth looking into this. In the case of my CyberbaseTradingPost.com website, I actually started making more money with the site when I opened it up to Adwords and displaying ads from complimentary products. I also now generate revenues from a membership program on that site. So follow Amazon’s example and look for additional ways to make money.

3. Amazon Already Has A Reputation. You Don’t

“I don’t know about you, but I personally find shopping at Amazon a pretty crappy experience. Every page is cluttered with hundreds of calls to action.

There are ads, cross sells, upsells and millions of options to choose from. The reason why I put up with Amazon is because I’m used to shopping there and the checkout process is convenient and easy because they have all of my credit card information stored in their database.

I also like the extensive library of reviews for each product.”

This is one point that I disagree with many web designers on – the multiple calls to action on a page are there because they work. If it works, copy it. Giving people choices is a good thing, not a bad thing.

4. Your Target Audience May Be Different

“Increasing the conversion rate for your online store is all about tailoring your store copy to your target customer. But here’s the thing. Your customers and Amazon’s customers will likely not be the same and you won’t be getting customers from the same traffic sources.”

So what? Amazon tailors the shopping experience to every single customer that comes to their site, not just some generic avatar like “30-year old soccer moms”. I expect your target audience IS different than Amazon – you aren’t trying to compete with Amazon, you are trying to see what works and determine if it makes sense for you to do something similar. Here’s a great quote from Jeff Bezos that I include in my soon to be released follow-up book, called ‘What Would Jeff Do?’: “We watch our competitors, learn from them, see the things they are doing for customers, and copy those things as much as we can.”

5. You Have No Idea What You Are Copying

“Amazon is constantly testing their shop. And the problem is that you have no idea what is a test and what is not.”

The point is that Amazon is constantly testing their shop – and you should to. Do what Jeff would do and experiment!

6. Amazon’s User Interface Is Generic

“Amazon has grown to be a gigantic behemoth by offering millions of products for sale using a generic selling platform. And because they have to cater to so many different types of products, they can’t do a great job with any of them.

Does that mean that you should adopt a generic selling platform for your online store? No way. Your advantage as a small shop is to create a shopping experience that is very specific to the products that you want to sell.”

Amazon can’t do a great job of selling any of them? Really? Why do they sell more than you do? Look at WHY they are selling so much product: user reviews, word-of-mouth, customer satisfaction. Do those things and watch your sales improve!

Bottom line: I don’t think there is a lot of argument between the original blog post and what I teach (and how we build websites) – it’s mostly a matter of semantics and sensationalism. However, I do contend that it is always a good idea to learn from others, just like Jeff Bezos said in the previous quote, or as Anthony Robbins says:

“If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.”