Shop By Department

Customer Goal

I want to browse using my Amazon app rather than searching to find something I might want to buy.


Lead Designer (solo)

Key Deliverables

  • Sketches
  • Wireframe concepts
  • UX specification
  • Create, conduct and report on research
  • Finding and logging implementation bugs


  • Customer satisfaction increased
  • A moderate percentage increase of customers started shopping by department from the phone apps (increasing revenue)


Up until late 2011, Amazon only offered the ability to “Shop by Department” on the mobile Web site. I was tasked to remedy the situation, and design a solution for the iPhone and Android apps.

On the Amazon mobile Web site, customers selected a top-level department and then a sub-department, resulting in them seeing content no matter what, with nodes further down the department “tree” located below the content for the customers to discover. I believed that a better experience would be to present the customer with the entire tree, and let them choose when to see content rather than displaying it after an arbitrary number of taps.

After a review of relevant external research, plus discussion with my peers, I proposed putting the customer more in control. I created a presentation showing stakeholders a range of options along a continuum, as well as what experiences the competition was providing to their customers.

I subsequently explored many ideas, landing on one with an “All…” at the top that would jump into content and then each sub-department beneath, allowing customers to continue navigating down through departments. Above these list items I designed a carousel of products (images only), primarily to help customers better understand what they selected at a glance. I originally wanted to provide more clues before the customer selected an unknown department, but it was deemed too resource-intensive so had to be dropped.

To test my idea, I created and ran a paper prototype study, which found this model seemed to work, and then another two studies where I created a working prototype on my iPhone using a 3rd party app called “Dapp”, which also supported this model.

Lessons Learned/Constraints

  • I got the functionality right, but without enough customers using it early and often to provide us with data, I ended over-indexed on the navigation component, not providing enough product types and imagery
  • Checking the box is important when it comes to features that customers expect, but even better would have been providing a more immersive experience
  • Some geographic locales are more likely than others to shop by department

Additional Context

At a later time, I explored the idea of using a vertical split-view, where the customer started with the list on the left but could drag the content that was peeking in view from the right edge into view, pushing the list such that it peeked along the left edge. Interesting, but not quite the right solution for shopping by department. Also interesting is that on the mobile app, at least in 2018/2019, elements of this peeking are in the main menu.