Evolution of Amazon's home page on Black Friday 2001 - 2011
Kindle-related content gains unprecedentedprominence on Amazon.comThe day after Thanksgiving in the USA is known as Black Friday. In recent years it hasbeen the busiest day for retailers since it marks the beginning of shopping for Christmaspresents. Queues on this day are so notorious that in 2008 a Walmart employee waskilled in the stampede.iThis year retailers like Best Buy, Macy‘s and Target even decided to open their storesat midnight on Black Friday (named this way because retailers supposedly move intothe black and become profitable).iiBrick-and-mortar stores are getting more aggressive because of the growing popularityof online shopping where buyers do not need to wait. Amazon is the world‘s biggest e-commerce website and sells everything from groceries to computing capacity.The Monday after Black Friday in the US is called Cyber Monday because a lot of peoplebuy products online from their workplace.iii In 2010 Cyber Monday surpassed Black Fridayas the highest spending day of the year.The following research will examine the evolution of Amazon‘s homepage around BlackFriday between 2001 and 2011. For the purposes of this study I will use the InternetArchive‘s Wayback Machine, which gets its content from Alexa, owned by Amazon. Theonly year that I could not include in my research was 2002 due to the lack of screenshotsin the Internet Archive.There are other organizations that crawl the web for the future generations, such as theSwedish National Library, but the Wayback Machine still offers the largest database.ivAlthough there is an uneven representation of different countries in it in favour of theUSA, the Wayback Machine is the best place to start researching the past of majorwebsites.It works by crawling URLs visited by users of Alexa‘s toolbar. They are usually submittedinto the archive after 6 months for copyright restrictions. Sometimes because of arobots.txt file set up by the owner of a website, the Wayback Machine is unable toarchive images and users‘comments.There are numerous fascinating applications of The Wayback Machine. It can be used tolook for changes in content of a specific URL over time, for example.vIn a 2002 study on the validity of health-related information on the web, researcherMichael Veronin, claims that 59% of websites that in 1999 provided content about aspecific herbal remedy no longer exist. Veronin suggests that ―… may be that certaintopics (such as herbal remedies) can have periods of enthusiasm by the public then wane
— which may be the case with these sites. Perhaps information on more mainstreamtopics (such as health risks and smoking) is less vulnerable to attrition.‖viBy comparing US states websites‘ home pages between 1997-2002 Terry Ryan, RichardField and Lorne Olfman found home pages that differed dramatically in 1998 in terms ofnavigation have become more similar over timevii. In later years differences ininformation density and types of layouts, however, became more common. Their paper isespecially useful because it defines categories of home pages‘ layouts that can be builtupon in following research. They are: - Long list of text links - Simple rectangle (―A rectangular shape designed to fit within a browser window and one or more graphics.‖) - Short ‗L‘ (―It has a rectangular shape like that of the Simple Rectangle, but can be somewhat larger and has a clearly defined header bar and left menu bar that are all one piece.‖) - Long ‗L‘ (―The type has evolved over the years to become longer; to be denser by having more links, more images, and more information density on the page; and to have a more clearly defined ‗L‘ type of header and left menu bar.‖) - Portal - Boxes (―It is marked by the division of the home page into discrete square or rectangular areas.‖) - ExperimentalIn this study I have looked for changes in the following list of features: - When is the first appearance of an advertisement/promotional material? - What are the changes in the appearance of the search bar? - What type of links appear and disappear from the home page? - What type of content/services is featured on the front page? - How does layout, navigation and information density change?Amazon has kept its home page almost unchanged since the onset of the 21 st century.Its layout is still ―Long L‖ with a distinct left bar.One of the interesting developments in Amazon‘s homepage is the gradual disappearanceof other brands. For example, in 2001 we can see Target‘s logo on amazon.com, butsince at least 2003 it has been gone. Until 2006 Toys‘R‘Us‘ name appeared frequently onAmazon‘s homepage but after that it disappeared. Furthermore around Thanksgiving daybetween 2004-2009 Amazon features a banner that urges people to donate to children inpoor circumstances but since 2010 such campaigns disappear from the front page. Therewas even a period in 2003 when Amazon provided a Google search box on its homepage. But it was briefly replaced by Amazon‘s own A9 in 2004, only to be discontinued in2006.The number of celebrity endorsements that Amazon used to sell its products on the homepage also decreased. For instance, the Holiday A-list of gifts recommended by celebritiesnever appears again after 2003.Another obvious trend is that since 2007 Black Friday, around when Amazon introducedKindle, the precious space on the home page has been almost exclusively reserved for
the digital device. In this sense Amazon‘s home page changes from ―What can Amazondo for you?‖ to ―What can you do for Amazon?‖Gradually categories like ―Home & garden‖, ―Gourmet food‖ and ―Tools & hardware‖become less prominent. On the other hand in 2006 ―Electronics & Office‖ becomes knownas ―Computer & Office‖ and a few product categories are merged into ―ConsumerElectronics‖, thus signifying the increasing consumerization of IT. In 2010 for the firsttime ―Office‖ is not featured on the home page.In 2007 Amazon became increasingly digitized following the premiere of Kindle. Thesame year ―MP3‖ and ―GPS‖ get their own place in the left column of Amazon‘s homepage. A whole new category ―Digital downloads‖, mostly with content for the Kindle,becomes prominently featured on the home page. ―Textbooks‖ is the most significantaddition to the ―Books‖ category. On the other hand ―DVD‖ fades completely away. Thewebsite is inaccessible on Black Friday the same year, probably briefly, according to theWayback Machine. After all, Kindle started being available in the US just four days beforeBlack Friday so Amazon rearranged whole categories in promoting its e-reader.By 2007 labels such as ―Automotive‖, ―Sporting goods‖, ―Jewelry & watches‖, ―Cellphones & service‖, ―Kitchen & housewares‖ and ―Health & beauty‖ permanently lostpriority to electronics.In 2008 ―Blu-ray‖ emerges in the left column together with its arch enemy ―Video ondemand‖. ―Consumer Electronics‖ turns into ―Electronics‖.One year later the leading ―Books‖ category moves ―Newspapers‖ from ―Magazines &Newspapers‖ to the Kindle‘s new own category of goods and accessories. Just behind―Books‖ is ―Kindle Books‖. Maybe coincidentally 2009 was one of the worst years for theUS newspapers marking 13 consecutive quarters of declining advertising revenue. TheKindle category pushes down ―Computer & Office‖ and requires scrolling to be seen.Although more compact, Amazon‘s 2011 homepage promotes the retailer‘s digitalservices even more. For the first time ―Books‖ is not among the top categories. Nowthere are ―Unlimited Instant Videos‖, ―MP3s & Cloud player‖, ―Amazon Cloud Drive‖,―Kindle‖, ―Appstore for Android‖, ―Digital Games & Software‖ and ―Audible Audiobooks‖.On the right side of the home page there are a few banners promoting digital serviceslike Amazon‘s Prime and Cloud Player. There also two banners marking the countdown toBlack Friday. Days before Black Friday not a single charity banner can be seen. Moreoveron the home page a new link ―Your digital items‖ appears. After all, in 2010 Amazonannounced that sales of digital books for Kindle in the US have surpassed paperbackbooks.A glimpse through the home page also reveals additional subtle changes through 2001 –2011. For instance, Amazon‘s blog which has been on the home page through 2008.There were days with at least 18 postings in it, yet since 2009 we have not seen a link toAmazon‘s blog on the home page. Another short-lived feature on the home page isAmazon Customers‘ vote where users announce what they want to buy. From 2003 to2006 there is a ―Sell your stuff‖ link on Amazon‘s home page. Since 2007 it hasdisappeared. Probably it is a failed attempt to compete with the online auction providereBay.
In terms of wording, ―Frequently bought together‖ and ―Recommended based on yourbrowsing history‖ have lost priority to the less intrusive ―What other customers arelooking at right now‖ which Amazon uses heavily since 2008.In 2008 Amazon for the first time displayed users‘ lists of products on their home page.It was the first time a username was actually shown on amazon.com. This could be seenas a reaction to the popularity of social networks like Facebook. However, in 2009 listslost their place on Amazon‘s homepage. Perhaps management‘s frustration withAmazon‘s inability to create successful social features led to the hiring of Amazon‘s firstSocial Media director in 2011.viii―Gift certificates‖ has been a prominent link on Amazon‘s home page in 2006 and 2007.Maybe this is intertwined with another featured link – ―Jewelry & watches‖. But in 2007they both lose their priority. This is surprising since 2007 marked a record in jewelrysales in US.ix In this case, the disappearance of a link on the home page does not mean aconsequence of economic processes in society, but it is due to a shift in focus forAmazon.In short in 2011 Amazon is more focused towards digital goods and services. Its homepage in 2001 reveals a more versatile e-retailer. However limited the scope of this study(only 50 screenshots have been used), it can be built upon with research on other e-commerce websites like Best Buy, Walmart, eBay etc. The data could be useful not onlyin revealing e-commerce trends and know-how. Consequently it can be examined ifchanges in online retailers‘ home pages reflect deeper social changes in the world.Literaturei ―Bleak Friday‖. Economist.com. 2009. (Accessed 17.11.2011) <http://www.economist.com/node/14973087>ii ―‘Tis the season to be frugal‖. Economist.com. 2011. (Accessed 17.11.2011)<http://www.economist.com/node/21538756>iii ―Cyber Monday‖ quickly becoming the one of the biggest online shopping days of the year‖.Shop.org. 2005. (Accessed 17.11.2011)<http://www.shop.org/c/journal_articles/view_article_content?groupId=1&articleId=623&version=1.0>iv Masanes, Julien. ―Towards Continuous Web Archiving. First results and an agenda for the future.‖D-Lib Magazine, Volume 8, number 12, December 2002. (Accessed 17.11.2011)<http://www.dlib.org/dlib/december02/masanes/12masanes.html>v Pearce, D., Charlton B. ―Plagiarism of online material may be proven using the InternetArchive Wayback Machine‖. Medical Hypotheses, Volume73, issue 6.vi Veronin, Michael. ―Where Are They Now? A Case Study of Health-related Web Site Attrition‖.Journal of Medical Internet Research, Volume 4 (2), October-December 2002.vii Ryan T., Field R., Olfman L. ―The evolution of US state government home pages from 1997 to2002‖. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. Volume 59, issue 4, October 2003.Pages 403 – 430.viii Barr, Alistair. ―Amazon steps up social media efforts‖. Reuters.com. 2011.(Accessed 18.11.2011)< http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/07/uk-amazon-social-idUSLNE78603W20110907>ix ―U.S. Jewelry Sales Reach Record Level In 2010‖. IdexOnline.com. 2010. Idex Magazine.(Accessed 18.11.2011) <http://www.idexonline.com/portal_FullMazalUbracha.asp?id=35244>