Would you like clean underwear with your fries?

Men's Regular Full Cut Flannel Boxers After seeing Amazon suggest purchasing clean underwear with almost every item we put in our shopping carts, Ariella and I have wondered if the Internet superstore’s recommendation engine is broken.

Amazon.com Admits Concocting Some Recommendations, a TechWeb News story from a couple of weeks ago, reveals the truth:

“Amazon.com made the shocking admission that it doctors some of its product recommendations, which are supposedly compiled by objective software that compares each customer’s purchasing history with the histories of others who’ve made similar purchases.”

I think it’s great that the world’s biggest book seller is also selling clothes (and even electronics and kitchen stuff). However, while throwing in bogus recommendations might generate some more short-term sales, it is just going to dilute consumer confidence over the long term.

2 thoughts on “Would you like clean underwear with your fries?”

  1. How, exactly, will it dilute consumer confidence? Their big selling point is not that their recommendation engine is completely objective, it’s that they have selection, price, and reputation for reliable delivery. I think this revelation just deludes nerds from the illusion that software can create some kind of idealistic reality. At the end of the day there is overstock, items on special, and deals made between companies to push product. Amazon is in business to make money. Granted it would be more honest if differentiated “recommendations” from “pushes”, but I don’t think this will delute consumer confidence in them at all. Also because this is the first I heard of it. Not that big a story?

  2. I agree that most of Amazon’s value proposition comes from the fact that you get your products on time, they’ve got a good return policy, and they give you great feedback about how your order procesing is coming along (“We just wanted to let you know Rick, our guy on the wharehouse floor, is in the middle of shrink wrapping your copy of Snow Crash to a piece of cardboard so it won’t get damaged in shipping. And Jane the truck-driver just pulled up, so we’ll try to get it to her before she leaves.”)

    But I occasionally look at (and sometimes buy) the “also recommends” products, because they in fact seem like books/CDs/etc that I might also want. After all, if other people who like Snow Crash also like some obscure Austrian rock singer named Falco, maybe I’d like his music too.

    But, if I can’t differentiate between a collaborative-filtering “recommendation” and a plain ol’ advertisement, then I’ll have less confidence in the whole recommendation system. Which means that all Amazon has going for it is their good order fulfillment system. And then I start to wonder, if Amazon is messing around with recommendations, are they selling my profile and purchase history to third parties?

    Before they seemed like a uniquely excellent store, but now they seem like every other website on the internet that will resort to deception in order to make a profit.

    That’s what I mean by “diluting consumer confidence”.

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