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A secretive Amazon team reportedly tweaked its core algorithm (and violated Amazon's #1 principle)

Posted by Robinhood Snacks on Thursday, September 19, 2019

A secretive Amazon team reportedly tweaked its core algorithm (and violated Amazon's #1 principle)

The greatest digital real estate on Earth... is Amazon's search results. And a WSJ investigation alleges that Amazon tweaked its core search algorithm last year to boost sales of its own products. These stats about Amazon's subtle-yet-powerful search feature humbled our souls and scream the key context:

  • Nearly half of all online purchases in the US are on Amazon.
  • 66% of all purchases on Amazon are from items in the 1st page of Amazon search results.
  • 20% of Amazon purchases are whatever was #1 in the search results.

Does the name “A9” mean anything to you?... Stands for "Algorithm" (and there are "9" letters in it). A9 is the Amazon division responsible for Amazon Search — and because that valuable search tool is ripe for corruption, Amazon keeps the team away from the Seattle HQ in Silicon Valley as a subsidiary company with a separate CEO. Here's what the WSJ discovered:

  • A9's core mission is to "get the best results for our users."
  • But Amazon's retail arm back home in Seattle wanted to push more profitable products to the top of search results — not necessarily the best products for customers.
  • So they pressured A9 to tweak the algorithm to increase sales of its own products and 3rd party ones it can make more money off.
THE TAKEAWAY 

This breaks Amazon's core rule: "Customer Obsession"... And could be unlawful since Amazon should be an unbiased marketplace, not a retailer pushing its own brands. But Amazon may have ignored its own laws: Its 14 leadership principles — this story violates the very first one. If Amazon tweaks search results to benefit Amazon, it's not benefiting you and us as customers.

Fun SnackFact: After the WSJ published the report, the A9 website was taken down. Awkward.




 
 
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