Amazon Ads Frustrate Shoppers

December 10, 2019

Is it wise for Amazon to put advertising revenue above customer satisfaction? The Washington Times reports, “Ad Business a Boon for Amazon but a Turn-Off for Shoppers.” Amazon now intersperses its organic search results with paid ads, distinguishable only by a small gray “Sponsored” label. Those that appear at the top of the results can be misleading—they are not actually the top results.

Amazon started mixing its shopping platform with its ad service in 2014 and has since beat out Microsoft to become the third-largest online ad platform (after Google and Facebook). It has a peculiar advantage—many shoppers have become accustomed to starting their product searches at Amazon, bypassing search engines like Google and Bing altogether. However, will that change as it gets harder and harder for users to find what they are actually looking for on the site? Reporter Joseph Pisani writes:

“Advertising is one of Amazon’s fastest-growing businesses, helping to offset some of its more expensive endeavors like one-day delivery, which is hugely popular with customers but also a drain on the company. Amazon hasn’t said exactly how much it makes from ads, but its ‘other’ business is mostly made up of advertising, which brought in $9.3 billion in the first nine months of this year, up 38% from the same period the year before. Amazon launched its auction-like ad platform in 2014. Advertisers bid for specific keywords, similar to what search giant Google does. Skippy, for example, can bid to show up when someone searches for ‘peanut butter’ or its rival, ‘Jif.’ Some keywords can cost under a buck. Sought-after ones could cost much more. Amazon gets paid only when someone clicks on the ad, even if the product isn’t purchased. The company said its sponsored ads are a way for customers to find products they may be interested in. And it uses machine-learning technology to try and show ads that are relevant to shoppers. But that doesn’t always happen.”

For example, the author of a recent book about human lifespan and aging felt compelled to warn his followers—supplement makers had pegged his readership as potential customers and paid to have their ads show up whenever someone searched for his book. Not only did it make it harder for readers to find the book, it kind of looked like the author endorsed the supplements; he most certainly did not. Though Amazon removed those ads after the Associated Press got involved, the potential for such tactics remains.

Cynthia Murrell, December 10, 2019

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