Shopping on Amazon has become worse and less reliable due to ads

Big picture: If it wasn’t obvious, Amazon has somewhat convoluted methods for promoting certain products to customers. People have begun to notice how seemingly unsuccessful purchases on Amazon have become in recent years due to “sponsored products” and items that Amazon advertises as “highly priced.”

As the holiday season approaches, millions of people are either starting, continuing or completing their shopping experience. Amazon is no stranger to an influx of orders and deliveries during this time. boasting a ridiculous 1.5 billion items shipped over the 2020 holidays. However, some shoppers are starting to look at shopping on Amazon in a very different way.

Last week Jeffrey Fowler of the Washington Post came out a report on the changes that Amazon (and other competitors who have followed suit) have undergone over the past few years. Previously, Amazon’s algorithms based product search results on reviews, popularity, and overall product quality. However, everything has changed. Companies can buy their way to the top of the search page, Fowler said.

The image above is an example showing search results for “4k tv”. The left one, from 2015, only displays the most searched items. On the right, the sponsored elements take up more than half of the screen, one of which is not even a TV and should not appear here.

Fowler describes these items as “dummy results” rather than “sponsored products”. He states that Amazon sold $31 billion in ads in 2021, the third largest after Google and Facebook. Amazon spokesman Patrick Graham says these ads are “helpful, informative, and make shopping a little easier,” but it looks like they can do the opposite.

Fowler gave another example of comparing 2015 results to current search results pages, showing searches for a specific brand—KitchenAid mixers. A screenshot from 2015 (left) correctly shows five mixers from KitchenAid. The latest results (right) show only one KitchenAid product and five other products from different companies. If someone is looking for a KitchenAid product, it makes no sense to immediately promote five items that are not from that company. Amazon guarantees that these changes will provide customers with “greater choice” and “encourage discovery.”

Fowler encourages clients to take control in two specific ways. First, learn how Amazon uses advertising to promote products. Terms such as “sponsored” or “represented by our brands” or even unrelated company logos (as shown above) are all indicators of these so-called “sham results”.

Second, research what you plan to buy before browsing Amazon. If you know what you want, Amazon’s attempts to lure you into another product may not be successful. Fowler hopes that customers changing their shopping experience on Amazon could lead the company to change how it provides personalized recommendations.

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