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John T. Unger

Amazon aStores… An Almost Amazing Alternative (or Addition) to Blog Advertising

John T. Unger September 27, 2006

And an awesome excuse for annoying alliteration, as well! Heh. But I promise I'll stop that now, since what I really want to post is a review of the pros and cons of Amazon's aStore program. Note: Adding an Amazon aStore to your blog requires no template hacks. It's as easy for Basic and Plus accounts as it is for TypePad Pro users!

About a month ago I got an email from Amazon inviting me to try out their new aStore program, but didn't get a chance to do more than glance at it until today. It's actually pretty cool… using your Amazon Associates account, you can build an inline store you can display within your blog. You don't need to know how to code, it's easy to set up, and to a certain degree you control the content in the store. When readers buy items, Amazon pays you through your existing Associates account. If you haven't got an Amazon Associates account, it's easy to set one up and earn up to 8.5% in referral fees.

If you'd like to see an example of how a store looks and works within a TypePad blog, just click the "continue reading" link at the bottom of this post and take a look at the store I built. It took me about 15 minutes, but that was because I was being picky and trying out every option. If all you want is an easy potential revenue stream for your blog, you can probably set up a store in less time than it takes to read this review.

There are some things I really like about the aStore program, and some that I don't. I'll start with the good stuff.

Here's where aStore gets it right:

  • It's easy.
  • It's hosted on Amazon's secure servers, but you can use it on your own site.
  • The interface, documentation and steps to create a store are clear.
  • There are options— you can create a link to your stand-alone store on Amazon, embed the store in your own site with iframes or use HTML frames to incorporate it into your site.
  • When readers click a product in your store, it loads all of Amazon's info within the same page… I much prefer this to a store that would take readers off-site.
  • Amazon provides widgets that allow you to include (or exclude) features such as your Amazon.com Wishlist , Listmania (reader lists on Amazon), Similar Items, Accessories, Customer Reviews, and Editorial Reviews. All but the reviews show up in sidebars on you store page… the reviews are included in the body copy of individual items (or not, your choice).

What aStore could do to improve:

Almost every single suggestion I was going to make about what could be better in aStores is apparently on the slate for the next revision already! According to a post by Darren Rouse at ProBlogger, he just received an email from Amazon alerting him that the following features are to be included soon:

  • Build and maintain multiple aStores using a single Associate ID
  • Specify products to feature on Category and Sub-Category pages
  • Create multiple instances of individual categories and sub-categories (e.g. Beatles Music and Rolling Stones Music)
  • Feature up to 54 products on the front page of your store rather than the current limit of nine
  • Write longer custom product descriptions
  • Better control the layout and design for use in frames by providing the capability to remove the store header and category navigation

Darren doesn't say when these features can be expected, and I can't find anything on Amazon's site that includes an actual date but I would give aStores an almost perfect review once these are included.  There are only a few things I would change that aren't already on this list:

  1. Currently, you can enter keywords to restrict products shown on Category and Sub-Category pages… but it only finds products matching all the keywords. I like the idea of being able to select specific products in the new version, but it would also be useful to enter multiple keywords (separated by commas maybe) and have Amazon's catalog return results based on any of the keywords rather all. For instance, say you want to feature products by several manufacturers in the Hardware category: if you enter DeWalt and Bosch, the search turns up nothing right now rather than displaying all the items by Bosch and DeWalt because none of the listings in the catalog contain both terms.
  2. I would like to see Amazon make it possible to create multiple pages for a store, rather than just allowing a larger featured items list. Nine items is definitely too few, and 54 is probably too many for one page. When you view a category page in the current version of aStores, the bottom of the page has numbered links that allow you to see as many pages as the Amazon catalog can generate. It would be nice if the Featured Items part of the store worked this way too. After all, a great deal of the strength of Amazon's model is allowing shoppers to filter results based on the recommendations of others… The biggest reason to shop on an aStore rather than on Amazon itself is to take advantage of selections edited by someone you trust.
  3. It would be nice to be able to choose which order items display in. Currently that is not an option and I don't see it on Darren's list. A simple drag and drop AJAX interface would be ideal, but additionally, it would be nice to be able select items and modify the sorting order based on variables like price, availability, genre, author, etc.

Thanks to Darren for the heads up on the new features. I didn't get the email myself and just happened to notice he had posted about the new features as I was procrastinating typing up this post. It was especially handy 'cause every single thing on the list was something I planned to suggest and thanks to him, my lazy hands didn't have to type them up. Yeah, there's a reason I like to provide cut + paste template code… andd it's the same reason it works better to get me on the phone or skype than to IM me.

More Like This: Advanced Templates , Basic Templates , Blog Tools , TypePad Stores

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Tom G says:

Thanks for reviewing this, I've been meaning to poke around on it myself. Looks a little more polished than the "store" I created over a year ago.

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