We’ve written a lot about Amazon’s aesthetic, which is technical and functional at best, and ugly and problematic at worst. The common refrain is that Amazon is not giving brands the tools they need to tell their stories, degrading their products to mere commodities.

If over half of product searches begin on Amazon, this is a big problem for brands. But shoppers vote with their dollars, and they have overwhelmingly voted for convenience—certainty that Amazon will get your purchase to you in two days or less—over brand experience.

Assuming all else is equal, if a shopper has the option to buy a product on an ugly site with fast shipping or on a pretty site with average shipping assuming all else is equal, most will pick the more convenient option and declare it a better overall experience. But when brands talk about their experience, they often lean toward aesthetic descriptions, rather than functionality; they focus on how the brand looks and feels, but not as much on how it works.

Amazon, conversely, almost exclusively focuses on how a brand and its product works instead of how it looks—most brands actually have a narrow definition of what experience is, often focusing only on aesthetics, while Amazon has a much broader one, focusing on everything from the customer’s first interaction to its last.

Design, which creates the experience, has always been about the intersection of form and function, not just one or the other. Convenience sits on the functional side of the purchase process. Where did many consumer product brands forget this critical part of the equation? It’s not that Amazon changed the definition of experience, but it pushed so hard on the functional side, disseminating the belief that it matters more than form (aesthetics). Maybe the equation was never 50/50, but more like 70/30, with function taking priority.

Amazon’s aesthetic gap has created an opening for brands to innovate on the look and feel part of experience for many years—more money has been spent on ad agencies and website redesigns, with a big focus on form, not function. Yet little of it has affected shopper behavior, as Amazon only seems to be getting stronger and taking more market share.  

The paradox of Amazon is that the company has not only brought massive digital innovation, but also physical innovation: No other company sits at the intersection of both worlds like Amazon does. Up until the Whole Foods acquisition, most of this physicality was on the back end, via its own fulfillment centers, but now Amazon exists IRL on the front end as well, in ways that shoppers can experience the company offline.

Consumer brands need to continue exploring this digital and physical mix. Offline, there seems to be a burgeoning opportunity to marry a good shopping experience with a convenient one. This should create new use cases for brands to open up retail and truly distinguish their offering.

But what does this all mean about the value of the aesthetic experience? At a high level, it doesn’t necessarily open wallets, and while it clearly still helps with brand-building, this aspect of business is unfortunately much harder to quantify and justify. The concern is that Amazon will continue to commoditize products that would normally be spared from this fate. Luxury should be especially worried given deflationary price pressure and rising quality for less continues to invade the market.

In this conundrum, brands need to take a wider view of what experience really means. Instead of deriding Amazon for the problem it’s caused, there might be more value in learning from what the company has done that resonates with consumers—their dollars are all that counts.