Amazon’s dirty little UX secret

Most of you might have come across this nuisance, but might have brushed it off. If you look closely enough you realise Amazon has one excellent example of dark UX practices that I know off. They make it really difficult for you to contact their customer service live chat.

For the purpose of explaining this problem, let’s take a hypothetical example. You want a status update on a delayed package, you don’t want a refund at this moment and the site says you can’t return the order anyway. This is a typical scenario that warrants contacting customer service. So how do you get in touch?

Think about it. Close your eyes and imagine the Amazon website. Now you know you need to contact customer services, so where would you look first? You would imagine there was a toll-free number to call. That seems to be the norm these days. Though you’d have to muster up the courage to navigate through an endless maze of automated messages. Deep breath and get to it. You’d probably find their toll-free plastered on their home page. First guesses are usually, top right or maybe in the footer at the end of the page. These are usually where the average website parks this information. It is a best UX practice after all to keep such critical information points in places where people expect to find it. You really long for once for one of those annoying chat bot bubbles to appear on the bottom right. Where are those nasty little things when you really need it. The next likely step in your journey is to look at it on the company’s ‘About Us’ page. You scour the main menu for anything that resembles this. Then you dive into the secondary menu. Here’s what I found.

The main menu

The main primary menu is entirely given up to shopping related links. There’s no help here.

The secondary menu

This hamburger menu that says ‘All’ evokes visages of the ‘One Ring’ from Lord of the Rings. The one menu item to rule them all. The keys to Amazon. This does look promising. At the end of the scrollable list of departments and such is a section that says customer service. This brings you to the customer help page. Paydirt. You are almost there. More about that below.

The footer

The footer does have one entire column that proudly proclaims ‘Let Us Help You.’ Surely, there’s going to be a quick fix there. Oh but no. There does seem to be a link to a ‘Returns Centre’. One glance at this page and you realise it’s primary purpose is not to return products. It’s to manage previous return requests or return a gift that you may have received. Any actual returning of purchases has to be done from your My Orders page. There should be a cross link to that page from this one, one would think.

The last entry in the ‘Let Us Help’ You column, does say help. This is the same page that you navigate to from the secondary menu as described above. If you’ve been patient enough till now, it’s going to pay off. Above the fold you don’t see an immediate button or number to trigger a chat with a customer service individual. But if you scroll down you find a tabbed interface with several topics and sub topics. The last thing on this list is Customer Service. Hit that and you finally find the contact us page at the bottom of the list. You are probably jumping up and down with joy right now. The first thing I’d do is bookmark this page in your browser. Even if you think your UX muscle memory is good enough to remember this path in the future, this is a major time saver. It eliminates so much headache in the future. Headache which you shouldn’t have in the first place.

So you found it.

You have two options now. Go for a live chat or opt for a call back. I’ll confess I always pick live chat. I am treated to a further minor annoyance of a bot that collects key details about which order I want to discuss. I believe this is common regardless of whether you want to do a call or a chat. More often than not I find myself repeating these details to the human at the other end later.

Why does Amazon do this?

Let’s face it. Amazon doesn’t want you to call their customer service as far as possible. Eliminate the human cost if you can automate as much of the UX flow as possible seems to be the prime principle driving this. Pun unintended. I can see how it makes business sense. Yet from a branding perspective, it paints Amazon as a little heartless and customer unfriendly.

You might say that this isn’t exactly the definition of Dark UX. True. A better example would be how Amazon Australia tricks you into signing up for their Prime Membership and then forces you to go through this entire journey to cancel your free trial. Or the minimum order quantity forcing you to buy two tins of candy from Amazon India, when you only wanted one. Yet, I firmly believe that concealing easy access to connect with a customer associate is a Dark UX practice for an e-commerce site because it’s trying to drive you to automated solutions and be satisfied by them, or to avoid returning your order or giving up on the issue in the first place.

I’d like to end on the note that for all said and done about it’s website, as a service I am and will most likely always be a happy and forgiving Amazon customer. Once you get around their UX practices, their return policies are second to none. As long as you stick to products delivered by Amazon. They were an immeasurable help during the pandemic and they are ideal for sending a birthday gift to relatives afar.

Edit: Post this article Amazon actually did make a UX change. It introduced its customer service button as the second item on its main navigation. Yet to contact the company you still need to click the last link at the bottom of the page to find the relevant options.