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Feb 02, 2004
Best Practice

How Amazon Developed a Flash Demo to Help Confused Shoppers

SUMMARY: Amazon had a problem -- some shoppers were confused by the 1- Click ordering process. Would adding a Flash demo to the site help? Learn how they tested it and what they learned about Flash demo best practices along the way.

Useful for any marketer BtoB or BtoC who is considering adding a Flash demo to educate site visitors.
Amazon's 1-Click ordering feature has its place in the Internet Hall of Fame, but there's a catch.

As Jessica Scheibach, Senior Manager, Consumer Ordering & Self-Service Group, explains, "It's great - it's convenient, our customers love it, but if it's the first time you encounter it, it's like 'Wow! One click and I've really ordered it - how does that work?'...if you don't know what it is, it can be a little scary."

Amazon's task - to find a way to better familiarize customers with the feature. Here's how they did it.

#1 Identify the right help tactic

The team needed a solution that...

1. ...customers could draw on themselves without having to involve customer service.

2. ...tackled the complexities of 1-Click by guiding customers around the feature.

3. ...was quick and easy to implement and test.

Traditional text-based help pages could only go so far. Scheibach explains, "When you give someone a static help page it doesn't give you the capability to walk someone through a process as well."

The team considered live chat solutions, but balked at the significant investment with no guarantee that they'd be more effective than a pop-up animated demo with audio - the solution they settled on.

Scheibach says a pop-up demo is, "really easy, short, doesn't take up a lot of time and it actually walks you through a feature and talks about it (versus reading) didn't take long to develop so it was good as an experiment."

#2 Build a best practice demo

The team sat down with their developers and drew up objectives for the demo, identified key informational elements they needed to communicate to customers, and went through the 1-Click feature's functionality as a series of screenshots and explanations.

Together, these formed the basis for script writers and animators to develop an appropriate demo.

The result was a 2.5 minute Flash-based animation which guides viewers through the 1-Click ordering process and 1-Click options using a series of screenshots and an audio narrative.

Scheibach and the vendor who developed the demo had these tips for us on best practices:

-- Use audio, but don't neglect text

Audio is better that text for engaging the viewer and for information retention. But you need to account for those who can't (or don't want to) have sound. So provide a text alternative, too.

In the 1-Click demo, for example, there's a text icon above a repeating message at the bottom of the screen which says, "No sound? Open on-screen text."

-- Choose representative names and products

Products, names and similar featured in the demo should be as inclusive as possible - representative examples that fit with the largest section of your audience *and* don't alienate other sections.

The 1-Click screenshots feature a popular (and heavily discounted) biography of former US President John Adams, for example. A very typical Amazon purchase.

-- Use a voice that resonates with the audience

The same concept applies to the voice used. It should reflect the tenor of the script, and a friendly, conversational approach is generally best. The 1-Click demo uses a young, adult, male, "middle-America" narrator.

-- Not too long, not too short

Usually two to four minutes is optimal. Any more and you take up too much of the viewer's time. Any less, and you're probably not imparting enough value to make it worthwhile (for you or the viewer).

-- Not too slow, not too fast

Not too fast so people can't keep up and not too slow so they get impatient - and here a third party perspective helps. Most insiders are already familiar with the contents and tend to favor a faster pace than is appropriate for those new to the topic.

Most important is ensuring that whatever's happening on-screen is reflected in the narration; the two should be in sync.

-- Don't forget to update

Scheibach explains, "One of the dangers is when your site is so dynamic that the screenshots get out of date. If you use the demo you'll notice the old "buy box", for example. It's OK, but ideally we'll go through and update the screenshots."

#3 Drive customers to the demo

Typically, Amazon takes a twin approach to "promoting" its help features. A main help link appears consistently across all the site (you'll see it at the top right) and there's also contextual help - such as the "Learn how to use Your Account" link in the "Your account" area.

Once the demo was built, the team placed links to it on various areas of the site. Clicking pops-up the demo, which closes automatically after completion. They measured clickthroughs and reacted accordingly. The link is now found, for example, on the main help page and on the post-order thank you page.

Why not next to the 1-Click order button, where it would seem most useful?

Scheibach says it used to be exactly there. But usability studies showed that too much clutter in the "buy box" area overwhelmed customers. So the link went as part of the simplification of that piece of website real estate. The moral of the story - you just can't have everything.

Scheibach comments wistfully, "It's hard to make a trade off when you have such a limited amount of space."

On the main help page, the demo link is next to two other links to animated demos in a self-contained box, and marked by an icon - the only help icon on a page full of help links. Why?

Scheibach notes, "We could have an icon for everything, but then you ignore them all. But we will use them if we want to highlight anything specific."

Other links on the page go to normal web pages, and the team wanted, " give you the impression that something is going to pop-up, because this is a pop-up demo and customers do have aversions to pop-ups. It's subtle."

Given this noted aversion, what has customer response been like?

Scheibach's team monitor feedback and also conducted a 7,000 person user survey asking for demo viewers' reaction.

The results..."For the people who responded it was overwhelmingly positive. We were really happy. We tend to be skeptical, because would customers take to a Flash demo? We'd never done anything like that at the site. We were pleasantly surprised that people were so positive about it."

She does note though that a few people had technical problems (despite it's near universality, not everyone can view Flash). And that's one of the reasons Amazon's help features still focus on standard text.
(the demo's accessible off the main help page)
(the vendor who developed the Flash demo)
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