mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Wednesday, 17 November 2004

What's Going on at Amazon?

I tend to use shopping carts at online stores as to-buy lists; if I’m interested in something, I’ll hold it there and muse on it for a while. This lets me build up an order over time and get it shipped in one go; I won’t buy everything at once, but eventually, everything gets bought.

From a retailer perspective, I can only imagine that this is like music to the ears. Having someone use your site to save their shopping list is a gold mine; you get to see what they’re interested in, and they tend to come back to you a whole lot more, because they’ve built up a lot of state.

For various reasons, I’ve chosen Amazon for this task. Over time, I’ve built up a list of something like 90 items that — one day — I’ll buy there. Books. Toys for Charlie. DVDs. Cameras, computer parts, and other electronic gadgets. All waiting for the day when I get the nerve up (OK, permission) to spend some dosh.

Now, Amazon does warn us that the shopping cart isn’t good forever;

Items remain in your Shopping Cart for 90 days.

But I’ve had some of this stuff in there for well over a year; most of it lives in the “Save for Later” basket.

Well, Later has apparently come and passed; I finally made a choice about my next digital camera, and upon adding it to my shopping basket, discovered that — wait for it — the camera was the only thing in there. 90 items, waiting to be bought and bring Amazon revenue and customer loyalty, just gone.

Luckily, I’ve copied most of the books that I want over to the neighborhood library’s wish list, courtesy of LibraryLookup.

What’s going on up there? If someone trusts you to keep their state, and you want to keep that relationship, you keep that state. Right now, I’m still telling myself that it’s just a glitch, but as the minutes slip by, I’m losing faith. I don’t care that they have cool, edgy movies on the home page; is trustworthiness too much to ask?

Yet another reason for people to demand reasonable import and export of data with online services; just wait for the day GMail does this to you.

P.S. This is the second time Amazon has pissed me off.

UPDATE: It’s fixed! Whether it was just a temporary glitch or Mike’s intervention payed off, I have my shopping cart back. Thanks MIke and Amazonians!

FWIW, I went back and looked at the wishlist functionality, and it’s obviously changed since I last peeked, because it’s easy to move items back to your cart. I still prefer the “save for later” list, because I don’t want to expose what I’m buying to the world, and it’s “closer” to the shopping cart; I often shift things back and forth between “save for later” and the shopping cart, fine-tuning my current order.

WRT the 90-day limit, it might be good to fine-tune the wording; it’s not clear if it applies to just the shopping cart proper, or also the “save for later” list.

Finally, with both the “save for later” and wish lists, it would be really, really nice if you could view more than 10 items at a time. But I’m not complaining…


Michael Bernstein said:

A while back Amazon’s cart was still cookie-based (but backed up by a database) and they switched to a globally persistent cart causing a bunch of my stuff to disappear (over 100 items). This happened because Amazon picked the contents of the wrong cookie cart to use for the new one. Calling Amazon tech support actually did help, and while they couldn’t restore the old cart for me, they could email me a list of the items (from several carts, actually), so getting them back into the new cart was pretty easy.

This was before wishlists.

Anyway, don’t bother looking for Amazon’s toll-free support number on their site, just call the toll-free directory for the number.

Wednesday, November 17 2004 at 1:30 AM

Manfred said:

Maybe you should use the wishlist for this purpose?

Wednesday, November 17 2004 at 3:00 AM

dare obasanjo said:

I don’t understand why Amazon even bothers to keep stuff in the Shopping Cart for over a day when they have a wishlist feature whose express purpose is for doing exactly what you want.

Wednesday, November 17 2004 at 4:30 AM

Vincent D Murphy said:

I use the Amazon shopping cart exactly the same way, and would be very pissed off if they wiped it like that.

It isn’t easy (enough) to move something from your wishlist to your shopping cart.

I don’t see why Amazon can’t spare a few KB in a table somewhere to store my shopping list. I am a regular customer, but will take my business elsewhere if they insist on making unilateral changes like this.

Wednesday, November 17 2004 at 6:49 AM

Mike D said:

I’m sorry that a piece of technology from Amazon that you relied on let you down. The ‘good for 90 days’ warning is no excuse for us to disappoint you like that. I’ll send a message to the Shopping Cart team and see if they can build an option to auto-move expired shopping cart items to your wishlist. This would at least preserve data.

What about the wishlist is difficult to use? There’s an ‘add to cart’ button for each item. Do you want a checkbox and ‘add all to cart’?

Wednesday, November 17 2004 at 9:51 AM

Bill de hOra said:


Why not put the wishlist underneath the basket and drop save for later? Then replace the “save for later” button with a “move to wishlist” button in the basket page. That way, there’d be just two means of organising your stuff instead of three.

Thursday, November 18 2004 at 2:28 AM

Vincent D Murphy said:

Here is my message to amazon:

Please read this web page:

In it, one of your customers complains that his Shopping Cart has been erased.

I am concerned that the same may happen to my shopping cart, which I use to store bookmarks to items I may buy in the future. If this did happen, I would look seriously at taking my business elsewhere.

Please clarify your position on this.

Here’s their answer:

On rare occasions, there may be technical circumstances which would result in the loss of your Shopping Cart. If you tend to save many items in your Shopping Cart, you may want to add these items to a Wish List instead. To learn more about creating a Wish List, visit

If you choose not to make your Wish List searchable, only those people to whom you send notice of your Wish List will be able to access it. When you create your Wish List, you can enter the e-mail addresses of those people, and we’ll send them an e-mail on your behalf containing a link to your list.

I replied to this, I’ll post it here when/if I get a reply.

Thursday, November 18 2004 at 4:36 AM

MikeD said:

I didn’t fix it. But I did have the idea that you could use Amazon Web Services to grab stuff from your shopping cart as a backup.

Thursday, November 18 2004 at 8:15 AM

dug said:

I’m also furious over this. They dumped my whole “saved for later” list. Just auto move the items to my wish list don’t delete them!!!!!!!!

Thursday, July 3 2008 at 3:37 AM

dchobo said:

me too! my >1000 items shopping cart is now empty!! :( I have been tracking these items for years now. The cool thing about leaving stuff in the cart is that it will tell you when there is a price change on the items (when you press the “cart” button). Also, I don’t see a quick way to move my stuff in the cart into the wishlist. I have items in the cart for < 90 days as well – those are gone too!! :(

Thursday, July 3 2008 at 3:55 AM