Amazon: room for improvement

Amazon: room for improvement

Amazon does a lot of things really well.

You want to return something? It’s easy. For an e-book, you can even return it within seven days of purchase your self, just by going to

finding the book there, clicking or tapping “Actions…”, and returning it.

If it’s a physical item, Amazon lets you print out a return label.

You even have thirty days to return a Kindle:

Kindle Return Policies

You want Customer Service?

If you have a new generation Kindle Fire, you have the Mayday service. There has never been an easier way to get Customer Service (and I’ve used it a few times already).

Buying things? Some people would say it is too easy. 😉

Overall, I’d say Amazon is the best retail company I’ve ever used, hands down.


That doesn’t mean they couldn’t be better.

I do believe they want to be better. Amazon is constantly changing and updating things. A lot of the innovation this year has been around new services and savings, more than around new hardware. As an existing customer, that’s how you want it to be. Making what you already own better…at no additional cost? Great.

There are, though, some definite areas for improvement.

I’m going to list a few year. As always, you  can comment on the post to add your own. My hope here is that Amazon is moving in these directions, and is aware of the concerns. If they aren’t, well, this might be like an ant trying to move a rubber tree plant, as the old song goes…but remember, in the song, that plant does move. 🙂

What’s in a name?

The Bard of Avon wasn’t saying that names are irrelevant. Sure, a “rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but the last names that Romeo and Juliet had indicated a lot about them…and that’s where the problems happened.

People assume that, if you name something, you are conveying meaning inherent to that thing. When the name and the meaning don’t align, it’s confusing and offputting.

We can go back to the beginning of the “Kindle”, more than six years ago now.

Many people didn’t like the name. People (properly) associated “kindling” with “burning”…and disrupting the book industry by associating books with burning was not a good thing. Amazon put out something explaining that they meant it like “kindling passion”…getting something started, rather than destroying it. Paperbooks and flames, though? Not a good association.

Okay, that’s just a case of how the name of a thing that people were seeing for the first time was perceived: just a first impression.

People got past that. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are young people who first associate the word “Kindle” with a book-reading device, rather than with burning things.

However, it then started to get confusing.

Rather than naming the next generation Kindle a “Kindle 2″, or something like that (officially, anyway), Kindles have been named…”Kindle”. Now, the current “entry level” Kindle (which I call a “Mindle”) doesn’t have much in common with the 2007 device…but according to Amazon’s naming conventions, they should be identical.

You could, of course, argue that a Ford Mustang is called a Ford Mustang every year, but it’s not…they add the model year to it. I can understand not wanting to name your e-book reading devices with the year, but I think a serial naming sequence (“Kindle 1”, “Kindle 2”) would make sense. If you want to come up with cool names each time, like Apple did by naming operating systems after big cats, that’s fine.

You just shouldn’t have two very different things with the same name.

I had cautioned against it, but they also named the tablet a Kindle…a Kindle Fire. Now, these are two very different lines of hardware, that do different things (although there is a fairly small overlap). People were confused: they were  complaining that the “new Kindle” wasn’t easy to read in bright sunlight. They talked about “upgrading” from a Kindle 3 (or Kindle Keyboard, or whatever they called it) to a Kindle Fire…that’s like upgrading from a baseball bat to an avocado. 😉 They just aren’t in a direct line.

Beyond that ,we have all of Amazon’s uses of the word “Cloud”. You have the Cloud Reader, the Cloud Player, the Cloud which is your archives stored on Amazon…and now, Cloud Collections (which don’t appear at the Manage Your Kindle site…which I think is what many people think of as the “Cloud”).

I’ll suggest a simple guideline, which I used to tell people when I helped them with database design: two things which do different things shouldn’t have the same name. 🙂 I would tell them not to have two “Accept” buttons on the same screen, for example.

Customer Education

In my “day job”, I do a lot of training, and that can certainly involve education (although they aren’t the same…training has do with modifying behavior, which often requires knowledge…education is just knowledge). Amazon, unfortunately, doesn’t do a very good job in letting people know about things.

When a new feature is introduced (like Cloud Collections), I’ll see massive confusion for days…even years. It may be something people would love (at least parts of it), if they knew the intended use…but Amazon never seems to explain that.

I certainly don’t mind (in fact, I enjoy) explaining the features, as I did here:

Understanding Cloud Collections

However, I have to figure it out pretty much by trial and error. I can’t just go on to an Amazon Help Page and get a scenario based explanation. Typically, even the features aren’t explained there.

Somebody at Amazon knows the use cases for all of these features: when they are good, and when they aren’t. If they didn’t, they couldn’t get built.

Maybe the thought is that they’ll be replaced soon anyway, so why spend the time and energy…but that doesn’t make sense to me. Even the basic concepts of what is stored on the device and what is stored at Amazon could be explained better.

I still see people (quite frequently) worrying that if they remove a Kindle store book from a device, they won’t be able to read it again.

Has Amazon ever given people  a simple explanation of Simultaneous Device Licenses?

Before you release a significant update, you should prepare a communication piece that explains the “why” of it. What is the context? What’s the advantage? What adjustments will people need to make? I’ve taught change management, and I always tell people that the first thing you say is what is not going to change.

If you are going to change the organizational structure in a business, the first part of introducing that should be, “Nobody is losing their jobs.” I’m putting it bluntly, here, but that’s got to be in the message before you say what is going to change…otherwise, people are just waiting to hear if that is going to happen, and they don’t hear anything else until that is addressed.

Similarly, updates should reassure people first.

Then, they should tell people why changes were made…and what the advantages are.

Lastly, they should tell people how to use the new features.

That’s not the only place we could use more information. It stills stuns me that they don’t list the clipping limit on a book’s Amazon product page. That’s important information: if you can only “clip” ten percent of one edition of a book, but one hundred percent of another, that might affect your buying decision…and satisfaction.

Choose Your Own…pretty much everything

My third one here is going to be the sense I have that Amazon thinks everybody wants the same things…and that, of course, it is easier for Amazon if there isn’t a lot of variety out there.

Sure, if  you let people change their “screensavers”, there is a risk that something goes wrong every once in a while. That might have a Customer Service expense associated with it.

However, people have made the buying decision to get a different device just because they couldn’t have that! There is a bigger expense (or loss) associated with that.

I remember consulting with people who wanted every possible access to Help removed in Microsoft. They didn’t want people finding out how to do things on their own, because it would make it harder to support the technology, since there would be more variety in the field. That seemed counter-productive to me: it would require more tech support for simple things…and simple things are more common.

We don’t get to make decisions about whether we want to upgrade or not. We don’t get to decide about whether we want to have local Collections or Cloud Collections (or ideally, both).

Amazon just makes the change, and we all end up with the same thing.

I’m hoping that, maybe, Amazon has started to recognize this by having customizable covers.

I kind of doubt it, though. All they did there was making something available somebody else had developed.

The corporate philosophy seems to be that everybody is the same…having one color (or maybe two) of a device is fine, having one organization of the menus is fine…okay, they let you change the name of the device, which people love to do, but we could have a lot more flexibility.

Those are three big areas of philosophy where I’d like to see Amazon make a change. I do love Amazon, and am extremely impressed to their adherence to their basic tenets (selection, service, price). I’m not asking for any of those to be compromised: I just see room for improvement.

How about you? Are there philosophical changes you’d like to see made at Amazon (not specific hardware/software changes)? Do you agree with mine, or am I being focused on things that bother me, but don’t bother you? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

13 Responses to “Amazon: room for improvement”

  1. Connie Says:

    Thanks for your comments. I just want you to know that practically everything I know about navigating Amazon I learned from you. I’m sure there has been a lot of profit to them from that.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Connie!

      I appreciate that. 🙂 Yes, I’m sure I’ve helped Amazon out with what I write, and I’m not at all concerned that they would replace the need for that. 🙂

  2. Rosemary Bodley Says:

    How many times have I had to check a serial # to determine which model Kindle I have? Yes the naming is very confusing. Also I find it difficult to find things on the site unless I have a referral. The use of Prime in video can be confusing. Does it cost something or is it free to Prime customers? Just small gripes, admittedly. I love Amazon.

    • Lady Galaxy Says:

      I agree with Rosemary about the difficulty finding things on the Amazon site. It’s easy to search for products, but if you want to search for an area on the website, forget about it. Awhile back, I was trying to find the Kindle software updates. I used searched for “Kindle Software Updates,” but all I got were books on how to use the Kindle or updates for third party active content or updates for apps for the Kindle Fire. I eventually found it by stumbling from one area to the next. Then I was trying to find the used music store. Again, I tried using their search box, but all I found were a few “for sale” used music items mixed in with links to the Kindle Fire, Amazon gift cards, and a mini travel surge protector. I don’t know why the search engine thought any of those were relevant to my search.

  3. rogerknights Says:

    There are, though, some definite areas for improvement. I’m going to list a few year [here?]. As always, you can comment on the post to add your own.

    Here’s a link to “My Nifty Fifty-Four Kindle Keyboard Wishlist,” which I posted on the Internet six months ago, in May 2013. (They were originally sent, in less polished form, to Amazon via the
    company’s e-mail address during the 15-month period from Sept. 2010 through Dec. 2011.):

    Click to access k3-device-suggestions.pdf

    Abhi / Switch11 reviewed my list in a thread in his ireader review blog a few days later, here. It’s a brief and accurate summary of my much longer paper linked to above.

    Abhi later e-mailed me:

    That list had some real gems. Really amazing list. I can’t believe Amazon wouldn’t fix these items. At least the top 15-20 it should fix. It’s absolutely incredible that they have 5 million or so people (well, at least 3 million) on Kindle 3s and won’t fix this.

    And there are additional areas for improvement where Amazon has ignored the obvious tips and corrections I sent to the company years ago:

    1. I suggested 17 improvements that could be made to Kindle-related matters other than the device itself, in a 29-page companion–paper, “Kindle Non-Device-Related Suggestions (about Documentation, Amazon’s Website, Kindle Blogs, e-Books, and Ads for the Kindle).” It’s posted online at

    2. There are also about 150 flaws in the company’s Kindle User Guide that I have been fruitlessly and repeatedly complaining about to Amazon since the 1st edition. They are contained in a second, 38-page, companion-paper, “Usage Errors and Infelicities in the Kindle Keyboard (K3) User Guide: 4th Take.” It’s online here:

    It’s too bad Amazon has these blind spots.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Roger!

      I do think it’s good that you put these sorts of things out.

      The links don’t work for me on the last two, though, so I can’t really comment on them at this point. I’d be interested in seeing the second one. I’m curious about how philosophical/strategic it is, as opposed to tactical like your first one.

      I always want to work on the philosophy first: that doesn’t get outdated in the same way as specific fixes, which I run into myself when writing about particular models.

  4. Jamie Burch Says:

    Hi, I was just wondering what the difference is between the kindle 5 or “Mindle” as you call it and the kindle 4 (grey model). I am thinking about upgrading from my kindle keyboard. Personally, I see the “Mindle” as a downgrade because amazon decreased the amount of on board storage by about half. I think I might get the kindle touch instead, but I heard that the user interface is a bit wonky. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. The last thing I need is an amazon fire because I already have two full size tablets as well as a 7 inch tablet.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jamie!

      I’m not quite sure which one you mean as the “Kindle 4”. You can figure those on the software versions, and under that, the one I call the Mindle is the Kindle 4.

      It goes like this:

      Kindle 1 (current software version = 1.x)
      Kindle 2 and Kindle DX (2.x)
      Kindle 3 AKA Kindle Keyboard (3.x)
      Mindle (4.x)
      Kindle Touch, then Kindle Paperwhite 1 or Kindle Paperwhite 2 (5.x)

      We then move on to the tablets.

      Since I’m presuming you want the device as a reading device, I’d go with the Paperwhite. My one resistance to it is the lack of sound, which means now text-to-speech. If you are asking for a comparison between the Touch and the Mindle, the Mindle doesn’t have a touchscreen, and doesn’t have sound. The Mindle certainly works as a reading device (I use one), but I do like the Paperwhite better.

  5. rogerknights Says:

    You just shouldn’t have two very different things with the same name.

    I had cautioned against it, but they also named the tablet a Kindle…a Kindle Fire. Now, these are two very different lines of hardware, that do different things (although there is a fairly small overlap). People were confused . . . .

    They should have called it the Kandle, as (I think) I suggested to them beforehand. (There was an add-on light supplier who had that trademark, but he could have been bought out.)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Roger!

      My key suggestion was that it not be called a “Kindle” something, but an “Amazon” something. That extends the Amazon hardware brand, and doesn’t confuse people about backlit and frontlit/reflective screens.

      This is what I said back in December of 2010…looking at it now, it looks pretty good (outside of the name). 🙂


      Thoughts for 2011

      An Amazon Android Tablet

      I think this is going to happen, and could be a really big success. The Kindle 3 is Amazon’s bestselling product of any kind ever in its history. There is certainly room for them to introduce a backlit, web-surfing, movie-streaming tablet. I wouldn’t want it to be called a Kindle (I want that reserved for reading-centric devices)…I’ve been suggesting it be called the Amazon Current. I’d want it promoted as “Kindle Powered”, or something along those lines. They’d promote it for their streaming video service, among other things. I think the Kindle has established Amazon as a hardware maker…even to the point where that would appeal outside of serious readers. It wouldn’t be a replacement for a Kindle for that serious reader group, but an addition to it. Non-serious readers would go for the tablet. Could it compete with other tablets? Yes, I think it could…it wouldn’t be the top tablet, but there would be a place for it. It’s funny, but I think it could be marketed as super-easy to use…it could be many technophobe’s first real internet device. Apple was originally marketed as easy compared to Windows, but I think non-technies see it as a brand of the techno-elite. Could the device have a different operating system than Android? Maybe. I’m thinking this may happen for a couple of reasons, but one is the recent press release from Amazon where they talked about how well the Kindle 3 sold.

      Jeff Bezos said:

      “We’re seeing that many of the people who are buying Kindles also own an LCD tablet. Customers report using their LCD tablets for games, movies, and web browsing and their Kindles for reading sessions.”


      “…people don’t have to choose”

      Amazon also hired somebody recently who could help with this, and they previously bought a touch-screen company.

      This could also be a larger screen…which might spell trouble for a new gen of the larger Kindle DX.

      • rogerknights Says:

        You were prescient–and I remember you being so. “Amazon something” would have worked. It may be that it was your thread that inspired me to come up with a handle like “Kandle.” (That would both have linked it to, and differentiated it from, the Kindle.)

        (I seem to remember that a famous book on marketing, Positioning, strongly urged companies to avoid inappropriate “line extensions” like Kindle Fire.)

  6. A brand new (May)day…a big change for Amazon’s “greatest feature” | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] I have repeatedly lauded Amazon’s Mayday feature, introduced with the 2013 Kindle Fire tablets. For example, I said: […]

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