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So You Want to Clone Amazon.com

So You Want to Clone Amazon

You want to clone a site like Amazon and are sure you’re going to be the next Jeff Bezos. You’re seeing dollar signs, I know. But I’m here to be the buzz kill. Let me tell you a story.

I recently had a potential client approach me about cloning a site like Amazon.com. His specific ask was:

I want to clone xxx.com and both iOS and android apps. Then customize to my own need. Small changes.

That’s it. That’s all he gave me. And his budget was $3,000 – $5,000. So I had to pull some teeth to get more information since there is no way to build a site as big as xxx (plus the apps) for that budget. That makes me think that he wants something much smaller that Amazon with less features but he didn’t give me much info. So I responded:

Can you give us some more information about what you’re looking for? The reason I ask is because xxx.com is a massive site with many features.

From what I’ve gathered on the internet, xxx.com is an online shopping “bazaar” that uses a vendor system to allow vendors to create listings for each of their products (no individual stores that I can tell). It uses a membership system for the customers who can then shop all the products based on category regardless of vendor.

One of their main features is that xxx.com allows customers to personalize their shopping experience using xxx’s unique algorithm that recommends products based on past purchases, as well as products the customer views and rejects. This algorithm was created by former Google and Yahoo engineers.

Aside from the massive size of the project, that algorithm is proprietary so we don’t have access to that. There are plugins available from WooCommerce that do similar things but there is no guarantee as to the robustness of them compared to xxx’s algorithm.

Is your budget flexible? If not, then we’d probably need to trim down the amount of features available. In that case, we’d need specifics (specs) on exactly what features you want and which ones you can do without.

He then informed me that the site was indeed going to be smaller than xxx and have less features. I won’t list them here since it’s his idea and I want to keep that information private.

But even with the additional information, the scope of the project was unclear. So I presented him with the steps he would need to take in order to make the scope as clear as possible. To prep you for my next response, you need to understand that the role of web designer and web developer are not the same thing. They may be the same person, but a designer creates the look, and determines placement, size, color, etc. of the elements. A designer must be fluent in conversation optimization which is no small feat. It’s an ever evolving world, and a good designer knows what to do to get your visitors buying what your selling.

A developer is rather straightforward. They take the designer’s work and build the site to best match the designer’s vision. This involves getting the site online, installing and configuring the CMS (content management software), installing and configuring the plugins that add functionality, and custom coding all the elements not available out-of-the-box.

Now that that’s clarified, here was the first part of my response:

I would suggest that you start with just a design project and have all of that done first. With the design, you should have designs done for all pages including pages that have specific user interactions.

For example, you’ll want all the basic pages done like the home page, about us, contact us, blog, etc. Then you’ll want the category pages, product pages, user account pages (user dashboard, saved deals page, deal information page, etc.)

Many of these pages can be simple wireframes but they are all crucial for communicating with your developer all the specifics of what you need and want on each page.

So my suggestion would be to make a list of all the pages, then have wireframes drawn up for those pages. This is something that you could do yourself, or you can hired someone to do it. The benefit to hiring someone is that most designers have a good sense of conversion optimization (e.g. where to place buttons, the size of boxes, colors, etc.).

This sounds like a lot and it is. You’re building a baby Amazon. And when building a site that large (or even smaller sites) these steps make the project run much more smoothly than if you just jump in to development. These steps force the site owner to really think through what they want, put their vision on paper, and make decisions that they didn’t realize they needed to make. Recently, I had one client whose designer only designed the home page and a custom post page yet his site had oooooodles of functionality and pages beyond that. I had him wireframe the rest of the site (he decided to do it himself) and in the end he told to me:

Your suggestion of forcing me to think everything through and communicate it to you was very beneficial (even if it was and still is a lot of work). Of course, it also resulted in some go-backs regarding the home page.

So for a list of steps on how to approach cloning a site like Amazon, here they are:

  1. Thoroughly analyze xxx.com
    1. Make a list of all pages that need to be wireframed. If you aren’t sure that a page needs to be wireframed, wireframe it.
    2. Some hurdles in this process are things like conditional forms. For example, if posting a deal involves forms that dynamically change or that direct users to different pages based on the selections the users make, it is difficult to predict all possible combinations. But the general idea would be design as many form elements and form pages as possible.
  2. Draw up wireframes for each page
    1. Include all the elements and user interaction pieces needed. These wireframes should include phone and tablet layouts.
  3. Determine what software you will need for all the functionality
    1. This is where you’ll need the designer (if possible) or developer to look at the wireframes and help you decide on what plugins or custom coding is/are required. So if you will have another person as your developer, this is the time to get them involved so all three of you can make decisions.
  4. Design each of these pages with the software and custom coding in mind (colors, fonts, images, etc.). For example, some plugins come with predesigned templates, so you’ll want to determine if one plugin will be easier to implement than another.
  5. Begin the development process.

As mentioned, the first three steps take an enormous amount of time, but when done right, it will save you in the end on development costs, time, and headaches. 🙂 And, just so you know, these steps will be at least half the cost of the completed site.

Side Note: I’ve done this process with many clients and one thing I noticed is that after we completed the first three steps, some of them went on to complete the site themselves because there was no custom coding needed. They felt comfortable setting up and configuring the plugins themselves and their design was actually taken care of by using a theme’s template out-of-the-box.

I hope this information helps all you cloners out there. Let me know your thoughts by leaving your comments below.

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