Amazon accused of pushing more expensive products
With a self-penned aim to be ‘the Earth’s most customer-centric company’, Amazon has quite the reputation to uphold. However, it seems that the algorithms that are supposed to help customers to choose the right product at the best price from a variety of different sellers have been accused of giving prominence to the items that most benefit its own bottom line.
A recent investigation by ProPublica examined 250 popular items over a number of weeks to see which ones were picked to feature in the recommended Amazon ‘buy box’ location. As Amazon allows other retailers to trade using its platform, the same product could potentially be available from different vendors at a selection of price points with a range of shipping costs.
Simply put, as customers browse the product that interests them, the Amazon algorithm selects an offer to put in the buy box. Of course, there’s a big benefit for whichever seller’s product is in the box because most customers will believe it’s the best-value option and add it to their cart.
Does buy box = best value?
Not so fast. ProPublica’s findings show that in more than 70 percent of cases Amazon placed either its own products – or those from companies that pay Amazon to fulfil orders – into the buy box, despite the fact that they weren’t always the cheapest.
The research demonstrated that if a customer had searched on the ProPublica list and bought everything recommended by Amazon’s buy box, they would find themselves paying a 20 percent premium over and above the same products at the lowest price on the site.
Now, prices can be compared using a tool that ranks sellers of the same product by price and shipping, but Amazon apparently plays the system here too by removing the shipping costs for its own items. For Amazon Prime members, who get ‘free’ shipping as part of their annual fee, it’s an accurate list, but for other customers, it’s misleading.
Check the detail
Amazon told ProPublica: ‘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.’
It went on to say that its algorithm chooses products for the buy box based on factors including price, seller rating, proximity to the customer and free delivery. Nowithstanding this, ProPublica’s experiment showed that 94 percent of items deposited in the buy box despite not having the cheapest listing were either sold by Amazon or by companies paying Amazon. Coincidence? Well. Maybe but it could give shoppers pause for thought.
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