A recommendation for Amazon.com’s recommendation system


When Amazon.com came out with their recommendation system a number of years ago (strangely this was difficult to find out for certain) I along with many people thought that it was a very cool thing.  Often imitated and seldom duplicated it remains one of the hallmarks of the entire Amazon platform. 

Netflix had a ‘contest’ begun in 2008 with a prize of $ 1,000,000 to replace their movie recommendation system – it was so successful that they are repeating again this year and the money paid out is far less than they would have spend to develop an internal replacement.   For what it is worth I feel that Netflix exhibited crowdsourcing as well as it can be done.  (You can read Jeff Howe’s book if you want to learn more).

Any recommendation system is based on the ‘wisdom’ of the crowd.  But Amazon’s system is getting a little long in the tooth.  I realize that any recommendation system is only as effective as the data it has to leverage.   I don’t give Amazon all that much but every search, every purchase everything I do on their site is tracked and segmented – or at least I expect that it is. 

So why (you might ask) I am questioning Amazon’s recommendation system now?  Well for one thing I searched on an SAT course for my then high school aged son in 2005.  For some reason Amazon continually recommends that I might be interested in purchasing the 2010 version (they also asked that about 2006/7/8 and 9). Since I will assume Amazon is not implying that my son is still trying to excel on the SAT (or that he is an idiot), I postulated that maybe they know at present I have a daughter who is a high school junior.  I checked my profile and nowhere do I mention my daughter (or anyone else family or friends).   Amazon may be good but they’re not that good. 

I also get recommendation for Japanese anime which I bought a book or two more than five years ago but have never purchased a like product since.   Also included in my current recommendations – a Slinky (?), Jimi Hendrix – Valleys of Neptune, (ok I get that since I have bought music like that over the years), and a bunch of books on Direct Marketing – which is totally appropriate even if I have no personal interest in those recommendations. 

What Amazon has failed to ask me is to fill out (I never have) my profile.  If I were them I would even incent me to do so – think of all the MUCH more relevant recommendations they could make if that had some better intelligence.   I would not have to be offered all that much – maybe free shipping on my next order?  I’m not an Amazon Prime member and don’t buy enough to be one.   But with more relevant recommendations I can almost guarantee that I’d buy more and so would other people. 

I have always been a fan of Amazon.com and remain so but they are missing a big opportunity.  If you have had similar or different experiences please share them as I’d love to read them.

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
This entry was posted in Customer Experiences, Marketing stuff and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A recommendation for Amazon.com’s recommendation system

  1. Phoebe says:

    You have to credit Amazon for giving the option to mark “Don’t use for recommendations” about any purchase, which I assume is meant to address the fact that people often buy gifts or make other purchases that don’t fit with their overall preferences.

    As you note, any recommendation system is only as effective as the data it has to leverage, and I think Amazon is limited by drawing only on correlations between users. Collaborative filtering has significant disadvantages as a recommendations approach, which I think is why we’re seeing more recommendations systems taking other approaches – for example, at Jinni http://www.jinni.com our recommendations have a semantic basis.


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