Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Tue Sept 20 2016 19:20:33

Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

By: Ina Steiner

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Investigative news site ProPublica did some shopping on Amazon and discovered something with which sellers are very familiar: algorithms that influence the order in which a search engine sorts results - and in Amazon's case, determine which sellers' items show up in the all-important Buy Box.

The publication looked at 250 frequently purchased products over several weeks and found that three-quarters of the time, Amazon placed its own products and those of companies that pay for its services in that position even when there were substantially cheaper offers available from others.

And, it said, "We found that the practice earned Amazon-linked products higher rankings in more than 80 percent of cases."

Amazon responded, stating that "vast selection, world-class customer service and fast, free delivery are critically important" in addition to price. We wonder, did ProPublica compare apples and oranges? For example, did items from merchants with better customer feedback come up higher than those from merchants with problematic feedback? Did Amazon give better ranking to items located closer to the shopper? It would have been helpful to have known more about the study's results.

Most shopping search engines use various criteria to determine the order of search results. A recent study by EcommerceBytes found that on eBay, even the number of results that come back can vary.

One quibble with the report: ProPublica characterized Amazon's FBA fulfillment service simply as a way for Amazon to collect fees for a greater chance of winning the Buy Box. But FBA fees are for much more than that - Amazon even handles the customer service for FBA orders. Many retailers have found value in using fulfillment services long before Amazon launched FBA.

We'd love to learn more about the methodology of the study, and we'd like to see more studies like this one to keep marketplaces on their toes and better inform shoppers.

What would ProPublica find if it did the same study on eBay - or for that matter, on Google, the master of all algorithms? Take a look at the article and let us know what you think.




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Readers Comments

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Wed Sep 21 07:01:34 2016

Anyone surprised? Isn't this what eBay is doing as well?  A perhaps etsy too?

These companies will not be happy until every small seller is driven out of business.  It's downright un-American.

There is a great opportunity for someone to start a site that caters to small sellers and one who will make a promise to NEVER go public and keep the large enterprise sellers out.

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

by: ignatz This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 21 10:03:38 2016

Looked at the linked article, first example they use is Loctite super glue.

What they've noticed is that Amazon doesn't SHOW the shipping cost for non-Prime customers on the offer page.  The lowly non-Primers have to go through the whole checkout process to find out the shipping cost. And then, yes, buying the Loctite from Amazon would cost WAY more than from the next vendor.

But scanning through the rest of the report, one gets the impression that they didn't quite understand the significance of that.

IMHO, all the anti-trust, anti-monopoly, "fair trade", etc. rules, regulations, etc. that are enforced so strongly against traditional retailers will eventually be enforced against online retailers as well.  

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Wed Sep 21 11:06:09 2016

The above is the very reason I don't shop on Amazon!

You don't see how much shipping costs on items of interest.

You get FREE shiping if you're a prime member, but what if you are not?

eBay doesn't hide shipping costs or sell against it's own sellers.

Viva La Ebay

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Wed Sep 21 12:17:10 2016

As my Latin professor used to say "Et magnus locutus est stulto gloria". Get out your Latin primer Tool.

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Sep 21 15:04:50 2016

@Rexford

The great man, Tool, probably only knows atinlay if that.

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

by: moto-science This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 21 16:24:30 2016

I see Amazon promotes the cheap Chinese knock offs over my Genuine original motorcycle parts in search.

We also can respond accordingly with disclaimers in our descriptions. "If you didn't buy from Moto-science, you just bought the Chinese knock-off. Caveat Emptor...."

No 3P market will ever control our sales again.

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Wed Sep 21 16:28:59 2016

@ Ming

atinlay?

I don't speak your language!

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Wed Sep 21 17:49:44 2016

Ming......like button on that one.

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 21 18:20:00 2016

Silly TOOL, ecommerce ISNT for pot heads!

What you fail to understand (with your incessant eBay cheerleading) is that eBay and Amazon are 2 TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS.

eBay is supposed to be "seller agnostic". Each seller  (like in a communist country) should be the EXACT same as another.

Except, that Cassini (Moscow Central Planners) manipulates the listings so that some sellers are MORE EQUAL then others.

If you do "free shipping" or have a 30 day returns policy  then you go to the head of the line ... or you just pay off eBay - that works too.

On Amazon you arent "selling" anything. Amazon does ALL the hard work, all you do is add inventory.

Theres NO REASON that Amazon shouldnt put themselves first - none at all.

Most times, they dont - as the fees from sellers are MORE then the profits they would make off the item if THEY sold it.

But sometimes (like with Loctite) they probably have a "deal" in place to move X # of items and so they put themselves first.

eBay is fraud (listings manipulation), Amazon is greed. At least greed is honest.

thanks for tuning into ecommerce 101, stay tunes to our next episode - brought to you by Ina and David - where one of us kind sellers will explain the next part to you.

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

by: TomH This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 21 20:42:18 2016

''eBay is fraud (listings manipulation), Amazon is greed. At least greed is honest.''

About as good an explanation of the differences as I've seen. When I sell on Amazon (and I do) I know that ''money talks'' but nothing is really hidden unless you put blinders on.  

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Wed Sep 21 22:06:20 2016

@pace306

"Theres NO REASON that Amazon shouldnt put themselves first - none at all.

Most times, they dont - as the fees from sellers are MORE then the profits they would make off the item if THEY sold it."

Now I know for sure you have LOST your mind!

Let's say you have an item for sale for $100, you buy it for $50. You pay Amazon 10% and make $40

Amazon sells the same item, they pay the same price you do (We all know Amazon gets a better deal then you or I from the manufacture} They sell it for the same $100 and make $50 profit off that item, they only made $10 off you selling that same item. . .

Now who needs the lesson in ecom 101? You or I?

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 21 23:16:57 2016

1) most times its %15
2) if you use FBA it's shipping in to Amazon, pick pack and storage fees
3) you always get shorted on shipping

As for you "lesson" to me... You have never been a buyer so you don't understand that there's more to it then just a sale out the front door...,

4) do you know how many companies Amazon owns? (A la 6pm)(which has higher prices then Amazon and comingles inventory.

Amazon rotates people into the box when it serves their purposes to do so- it's not always about how much they make. A lot of times they know it would take them too long to get/ship an item so they let 3p sellers get the box.

It's about serving the customer!

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Thu Sep 22 00:22:38 2016

@pace306

I've never been a buyer????

I've bought over 100,000 lbs of surplus tools over the past 16 years!

I've bought plenty!

But you're talking new chinese merchandise, you're right I haven't bought any of that. . .:-)

"Amazon rotates people into the box when it serves their purposes to do so"

Sounds a lot like Cassini ~ LOL

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

by: GotToGetOut This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 22 07:41:24 2016

Tool, you said yourself you "don't shop on Amazon" so Pace is right -- you are not a buyer on Amazon and how would you know what they do? I can't see any reason you'd want to waste your time spending 2 hours a day advocating Ebay unless there is something in it for you. If there isn't anything in it for you, then Tool is a bigger Fool than I thought!

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Thu Sep 22 08:15:24 2016

@GotToGetOut

"I can't see any reason you'd want to waste your time spending 2 hours a day advocating Ebay unless there is something in it for you."

What's in it for me? I make my living on eBay and I've been doing so for over 16 years, that's why!

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

by: lectiodivinabooks This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 22 14:42:39 2016

Amazon's search engine is so bad. one can look for an exact title of a book and all sorts of unrelated books appear in the first number of listings. It happens ALL  the time. and if one makes the slightest of spelling mistakes the item can't be found at all. It is the very worst search engine I have ever encountered on the internet. It represents a disservice to both buyers and sellers!  

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 22 16:38:05 2016

TOOL - what I meant was that you have NEVER been a buyer for a multi-million dollar retailer, EVER.

You have NO IDEA how the industry works, why it works (or does not), and what goes into maintaining major accounts on Amazon that ship 30-50K OR MORE a week. I have.

Of course (like the song says "'cause I got high") you missed the main point - the differences between eBay and Amazon.

When you sell on Amazon its their rules, their platform, their money, their wharehouses - all you do is add inventory.

You try to WIN the buy box by having the best combination of price, terms and sales record. How and why Amazon chooses the dealer for the buy box is a closely held secret - but its not hard to "know" what Amazon is aiming for - the BEST experience for THEIR customer. The buyer on Amazon is %100 theirs.

Contrasting that to eBay where %0 of the buyer is theirs, though they think it is. THAT is why sellers hate when eBay tries to dictate terms - when they have no right to.

You live in CA (as an example) and you are subject to CA's rules ONLY (as apposed to another state). You enjoy the error of CA's ways to make gateway drugs legal - imagine if Idaho or Nebraska or even NY came in and told you to toss your 420.

They cant, unless you are IN THEIR state. They have NO jurisdiction.

THAT is what happens on eBay. eBay has NO RIGHT to tell sellers what they should or shouldnt do. eBay ISNT an ecommerce site, though they lie repeatedly  when it suites them.

Are they "just a venue" which is true, or are they a "managed marketplace" where they have some say in the matter.

If they want to have some say in the matter - where are they when things go wrong? Where are they when issues arise? They want to have it both ways - and sellers are no longer having it.

If they are my partner and can tell me what to do - why do they not pay my taxes? Why do they get to make profit off my hard work - but I dont make anything off thiers ? (as a seller I make money off MY work - eBay owns nothing except the buildings in CA). (NOte - in this one case, Obama is right - they DIDNT build it).

Where electronics are made is none of my concern - its irrelevant. Where Sony or Panasonic, or Yamaha choose to build things has NO BEARING on how ecommerce works - why even bring it up?

Did you ever have an eBay rep? I did. Did you ever have meetings with eBay, I did. Did you ever have to threaten to sue to get your rights back (that eBay decided was theirs to ignore), I did.

Your selling a few tools here and there that you buy from some surplus place doesnt make you a player, nor does it make you an expert in anything.

MOST of the people here have YEARS of experience. Id trust people like Marie, or Rexford, or Ming or Ric (just as examples) to run my business (or any other one) because of their experience(s) and thier business knowledge. THEY know how "it works" and that makes them successful in what ever it is they choose to do - eBay, Amazon or even dog walking.

Yes Amazon isnt perfect - Ive said it 1000x, but greed IS better then dishonesty, and when your sales on Amazon are better (for specific objects) then eBay (list items on both places and see who sells more) - I "stand with Amazon". It DOESNT mean I condone or forgive their behaviors. Lord knows they have done some rotten things.

BUT, gating certain items or brands ISNT directed to me specifically, and they protect me when theres an issue. They call me to help, they send me suggestions on what to send in (ASINS that have orders but no stock) - THAT is a partner. And just like a marriage - you dont always get along with your partner.

eBay on the other hand takes PLEASURE in hurting sellers and EVERYONE (maybe expect you) knows it.

They wouldnt have to do "outreach" if their reputation wasnt so bad, actually its WORSE.

Even manufacturers dont see eBay as a legitimate channel - just a partner they can use to harass smaller sellers - with eBay playing patsy (and getting paid for it).

One day you may understand some of these things - but I doubt it.

You have every right to cheer lead eBay - hey - it has to work for SOMEONE - nice that it does for you, but for the REST of us - instead of eBay being a help, they are a hindrance.

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Thu Sep 22 17:41:53 2016

@pace306

No one cares about BIG sellers, 95% of the posters are small sellers.

And I knew exactly what you meant, didn't YOU get the hint when I said chinese merchandise?

Why is it a SMART guy like you has a lot of problems on ebay and a dumb dumb like me has very few problems?

I don't know what I'm doing and you do ~ LOL

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Thu Sep 22 17:44:36 2016

@pace306

"Your selling a few tools here and there that you buy from some surplus place doesnt make you a player, nor does it make you an expert in anything."

THIS IS WHERE YOU ARE WRONG!

We are all players, big and small. . .

If you keep grinding that axe you won't have any left to grind. . .

Perminate Link for Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm   Study Finds Fault with Amazon Search Algorithm

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Thu Sep 22 17:47:46 2016

@ pace306

"MOST of the people here have YEARS of experience. Id trust people like Marie, or Rexford, or Ming or Ric (just as examples) to run my business (or any other one) because of their experience(s) and thier business knowledge. THEY know how "it works" and that makes them successful in what ever it is they choose to do - eBay, Amazon or even dog walking."

I would love to see some of those sellers ebay, have they sold more then I have? Maybe maybe not!

I've sold over 40,000 items & have 13,555 feedback in the 16 years I've been on ebay. (1 account)

What are your numbers?

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