Report claims that Amazon's search algorithms favor its own products over cheaper options

By midian182 ยท 17 replies
Sep 21, 2016
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  1. An investigation by ProPublica has shown that Amazon’s search algorithms direct customers to its own products or those from companies that pay for its Fulfilled by Amazon program, rather than the cheapest items.

    The report checked 250 popular products over the course of several weeks to see which products were given prominence in the so-called “buy box,” which appears first as a suggested purchase. It was found that items sold by Amazon, or companies that pay the retail giant to ship products on their behalf, appeared in the buy box “about three-quarters” of the time – even when they weren’t the best deals.

    ProPublica found that the average price difference between the products that Amazon recommended and the cheapest available on the site was $7.88. A customer who bought all 250 items from the buy box, rather than purchasing the lowest priced goods from other vendors, would spend 20 percent more – or about $1400 extra.

    It was also found that shipping costs for Amazon-friendly goods are omitted when customers compare prices of items using the “price+shipping” search. While this may be correct for $99 per year Prime members and those purchasing more than $49 worth of items, it’s doesn’t paint an accurate picture for everyone else.

    Responding to the report, Amazon said: "With Prime and Super Saver Shipping (which requires no membership and ships orders above $49 for free), the vast majority of our items ordered – 9 out of 10 – can ship for free. The sorting algorithms the article refers to are designed for that 90% of items ordered, where shipping costs do not apply."

    The company went on to say that a number of factors are taken into account by its algorithms when determining which products appears in the buy box. These include seller rating, closest item to the customer, price, and free delivery, along with other components that it did not reveal.

    Customers trust Amazon to have great prices, but that's not all— vast selection and fast, free delivery are also critically important. These components, and more, determine our product listings to ensure that customers have the best overall experience when shopping on Amazon. If a customer is solely looking for the lowest price available, as you have with this study, we clearly alert them on the product detail page that lower prices may be available from other sellers.

    Permalink to story.

  2. bmw95

    bmw95 TS Maniac Posts: 199   +163

    Not surprised really. If you just search something on Amazon and buy it, chances are you're getting a pretty bad deal. Have to look around a bit on the site.
  3. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,730   +379

    If the customer just blindly assumes that the Amazon price is always the best, that's their fault. When shopping at Amazon I always double check what other prices are offered, and what delivery options are offered by other vendors to make sure I'm getting the best price.

    I feel that the company providing the marketplace itself should be able to promote their own stock above others. Do you complain that the supermarket has their own brand baked beans on a display at the end of an aisle even though they are more expensive than some other brands available on their shelves? No.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2016
  4. mosu

    mosu TS Guru Posts: 474   +84

    Only for the lazy ones.
    bmw95 likes this.
  5. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 4,737   +3,757

    As others have said, this is neither a surprise nor a problem. If you are concerned with saving $2 here or $7 there, you probably already know what the "best" price is.
    wastedkill likes this.
  6. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,274

    That's me all over. I'd rather have the $2 here and $7 there in my pocket rather than someone else's, you'd be surprised how quickly those innocuous looking sums can add up into something substantial.
    mailpup likes this.
  7. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,274

    Amazon has a search engine? I never knew that. I can't imagine why? Google search exits after all and has been around milleniums longer.
  8. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Grand Inquisitor Posts: 4,737   +3,757

    I buy supplements once a month. Trust me, I know how fast the scoreboard can get run up if you don't pay attention to prices. A $20 premium here, a $60 premium there...Madness.
  9. EClyde

    EClyde TS Evangelist Posts: 1,307   +429

    And Why not?
  10. insect

    insect TS Evangelist Posts: 349   +132

    Misleading conclusion. They aren't ranking by "theirs" vs "ours" but by shipping program. Those with one or two day shipping options are shown first - which happen to be more expensive - because people prefer to get the item faster than to save money and wait a week for it.

    I'm prime - so yes, I will almost always buy the $2 more expensive widget to get it same-day or one-day for free (we have a warehouse nearby) than to wait seven days. Why you ask? Because if I go out and get it 1) I've used my gas, time, etc. and 2) the nearby stores will sell it for $3 more.
  11. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 3,343   +1,987

    I have found a couple of good deals on Amazon, but only a couple. I find them best for things I simply cannot get it this little town, but more and more they are simply screwing their customer base and will probably go the way of most catalog companies before it's all over. Greed eventually does them all in!
  12. RevD14

    RevD14 TS Booster Posts: 77   +79

    I could of told you that...
  13. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 1,935   +761

    Like others have said, this is absolutely no surprise. Scamazon's search algorithms are also designed to throw as much crap at you as possible in hopes that some of it will stick - which, for me at least, sometimes makes their search results painful to go through, and one has to be extremely careful lest one get something that they really did not want.

    Personally, I am using other online stores whenever and where ever possible. At least one of those places often gives me free expedited shipping on orders over $50, where even if you order enough from Scamazon for free shipping, they take their sweet time in shipping it and then send it by pedestrian means.

    I now avoid Scamazon like the plague, and I will often pay more from other sites because I do not want to give my business to Scamazon and their obnoxious business practices.
  14. EClyde

    EClyde TS Evangelist Posts: 1,307   +429

    Ho Ho Ho....I shop Amazon and Wal-Mart first. I care about my pocket book before anyone else's. Shop local? The Thank You I get from Amazon may be printed but it is better then "Have a good one". Most sellers think when you shop local it is the customer that should say Thanks. Try it out, don't say thank you at check out unless they pack your stuff then just thank them for that
  15. lripplinger

    lripplinger TS Addict Posts: 283   +98

    I say boohoo. If you are incapable of searching for the deals yourself, then that is your problem. People these days are so lazy, and so eager to blame their incompetence on someone else. Furthermore, of course Amazon will promote their products, if this lame article even has a shred of truth to it anyway. Its called business, and making a profit. Deal with it.
  16. Yynxs

    Yynxs TS Addict Posts: 202   +70

    Of course you do. The vast majority of people think that way and have no clue they're destroying their local economy, whales calving, or contributing to plastic pollution in the ocean. They saved their couple of bucks and that's good enough.

    A local seller HAS to employ people. Those people have to eat, sleep somewhere, and buy somewhere, generally locally. That money makes a local economy generate jobs for young people starting out, professionals and home builders/suppliers. But hey, no thanks to them, they're just trying to screw you out of a couple pennies to line their own pockets and retire to Tahiti in 3 years because it makes them so rich.

    Walmart ships mass on mass container ships. Those ships transit the cheapest port to Mexico thanks to import dereg and guess which whales transit that area annually to calf, but who cares about whales, you got your plastic containers 2cents cheaper each.

    Speaking of plastic containers, making them cheaply is so much easier when there's no environmental or labor protection laws reducing the per item profit. No real need to invest in biodegradable or "bring your own bag" since the bags and bottles are so cheap.

    Yep, you should feel good about saving 'your' money. It is yours and you earned and will keep earning it if, of course, the job isn't off-shored to manufacture something else to save someone else their money.

    Ho Ho Ho.
  17. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 3,343   +1,987

    So incredibly lame! I'd love to walk through his house ..... that is assuming he lives in something better than a trailer .....
  18. EClyde

    EClyde TS Evangelist Posts: 1,307   +429

    Are there no gas stations? Are there no fast food joints? Let them eat Ho Ho's. I would like to see more jobs in the coal, oil and gas industries. Fewer jobs down at Fred Sklarr's Sport Shirt Store doesn't mean squat.

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