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Amazon allowing CSS customization

By Aaron Gustafson | August 16th, 2007 | Filed in CSS, Design

In a fairly interesting move, Amazon is now allowing aStores to be customized using CSS.

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This morning, Amazon announced that their aStore product (part of the selling tools available to folks enrolled in the Amazon Associates program) would allow full customization of the look and feel via CSS. Currently, the interface only allows for approximately 8000 characters of custom CSS, but that level of control is allowed on several of the page types, including product descriptions and search results. On top of that, users can also share these custom “themes” with others.

Of course, the underlying markup of the aStore product leaves a bit to be desired: it is a strange blend of DIVs and TABLEs that offers little semantic value. It’s also not valid HTML, but the validation errors are not difficult to overcome: missing DOCTYPE, unencoded ampersands, etc. (it should be noted, however, that the missing DOCTYPE does throw the page rendering into Quirks Mode, so keep that in mind if you decide to customize an aStore).

Implementation issues aside, the real story here is that a major corporation, like Amazon, is willing to relinquish some control over look and feel of one of their products and that they are using actual CSS to do it rather than relying on a series of color and font pickers (although that is still an option).

What are your thoughts? Would you like to see more products allow this sort of control? What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? What could be improved? Personally, I’d like to have the ability to customize the markup (microformats anyone?) and then axe the default styles altogether. What about you?

Your Replies

#1 On August 16th, 2007 9:49 am AlastairC replied:

I’d love to see more of this, although it almost certainly work better if the underlying mark-up were well structured and valid. Even if it had more hooks than strictly necessary (e.g. CSS Zen garden), structure helps.

If it had a decent structure, you probably wouldn’t want or need access to the mark-up.

Font and colour pickers are a sure sign you’re creating an inaccessible, unmaintainable, non-upgradable mess.

#2 On August 16th, 2007 10:39 am EdXeno replied:

Sounds a lot like how Myspace profiles can be themed: apply CSS to some incredibly unstructured code.

It’s a good move for aStore. Customers win without Amazon having to do much extra work.

And it does demonstrate the raw power of CSS.

But it’s also sort of a new generation of tag soup.

#3 On August 16th, 2007 12:37 pm Darius Jahandarie replied:

Obliviously any implementation of better standards in corporate sites is a big step, so this is very good.

However there are many easy steps that corporations can take to make their sites more accessible.

I don’t know why Amazon went for this. Perhaps they just had some smart guy developing aStore. Who knows?

#4 On August 17th, 2007 5:17 am Ben 'Cerbera' Millard replied:

You can already do this via user stylesheets.

#5 On August 20th, 2007 5:53 pm Frank replied:

I still wonder the hype around the astores. Did I miss something special ?
Normally it should only a question of time until big G. kills them all or send them into nirvana so they are still lucky to be in the index so you must send traffic yourself and if you are able to do that, why not taking a realy good application ?

#6 On August 22nd, 2007 3:28 am Fliesen replied:

That will just be the beginning. In future this will also be an option to even smaller shop sytems. But do most of the customers really use this? I dont think so!

#7 On August 22nd, 2007 7:12 am Kamin replied:

To: Fliesen
That is the point! Does all the user really take time to use this functions. I cant believe, this will be only a minority.

#8 On August 27th, 2007 4:44 pm Schokolade replied:

From what I hear aStores are not that loved by the affilaites. It drags away to much attention or so it seams…

#9 On September 5th, 2007 4:59 pm Curti replied:

CSS is a good move for aStore and for all users! I have no problem with font and colour pickers.

#10 On September 10th, 2007 9:11 pm Mac Millan replied:

I think it is great that a company as large as Amazon is finally allowing people to custmize the look to fit better with their purposes.

#11 On September 16th, 2007 10:04 pm NBA replied:

I don’t know why Amazon went for this. Perhaps they just had some smart guy developing aStore.

#12 On September 19th, 2007 12:24 pm badestrand replied:

i think amazon went for this to meet a little more better the design requirements for exciting shops.
many customers today are thinking: nice designed shops you can trust much more – they are more respectablly.

#13 On September 23rd, 2007 11:02 am CSSVault Blog » Blog Archive » Customize Amazon Stores With CSS replied:

[...] Apparently Amazon is now allowing their users to customize the look and feel of their stores, similar to how MySpace allows users to create individual themes for their pages. [...]

#14 On October 9th, 2007 9:53 am Richard Morton replied:

It is an interesting experiment and could lead to better use of the web. There are probably very few people who would be prepared to customise their own stylesheets so ultimately usage depends on how easy and obvious these sort of things will develop into. In the words of Steve Krug, “Don’t make me think”

#15 On November 4th, 2007 10:08 pm Dave replied:

I can see lots of potential small scale jobs for designers helping people customize their stores. If other companies allowed access obviously more work opportunities for designers.

#16 On November 7th, 2007 11:21 am James replied:

8000 characters of custom css is more than enough i think because its “only” an astore and not a hole big webpage. the move from amazone is okay in my opinion because everybody want a little bit “unique” even if its just an astore. just have a look what the future will bring.

#17 On November 7th, 2007 7:35 pm Gary replied:

We are looking at doing the same for our car dealers on Just Good Cars. We Just need to make sure that the system is idiot proof first and then the dealers will be able to also use the page as their own homepage. The css can make it look like their own personal site.

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