A recent report from the Wall Street Journal alleges that Amazon altered its search algorithm to boost its own products, to the top.
In a recent article titled “Amazon Changed Search Algorithm in Ways That Boost Its Own Products,” the Wall Street Journal claims that e-commerce giant Amazon changed its product-search system to more prominently feature listings that are more profitable for the firm. Individuals who worked on the project stated that the move was contested internally and was not publicly announced.
The Journal writes:
Any tweak to Amazon’s search system has broad implications because the giant’s rankings can make or break a product. The site’s search bar is the most common way for U.S. shoppers to find items online, and most purchases stem from the first page of search results, according to marketing analytics firm Jumpshot.
The issue is particularly sensitive because the U.S. and the European Union are examining Amazon’s dual role—as marketplace operator and seller of its own branded products. An algorithm skewed toward profitability could steer customers toward thousands of Amazon’s in-house products that deliver higher profit margins than competing listings on the site.
Amazon did not comment on why engineers believed that the shift in the search algorithm to focus on profitability was a significant change that they opposed, instead stating that the firm had always focused on long-term profitability.
Amazon said it has for many years considered long-term profitability and does look at the impact of it when deploying an algorithm. “We have not changed the criteria we use to rank search results to include profitability,” said Amazon spokeswoman Angie Newman in an emailed statement.
The Journal notes that Amazon’s broader shift towards profitability over accuracy has been apparent for some time, with the company changing its default search ranking to “featured” over “relevance.”
Amazon said it doesn’t automatically shelve improvements that aren’t profitable. It said, as an example, that it recently improved the discoverability of items that could be delivered the same day even though it hurt profitability.
Amazon’s Ms. Newman said: “When we test any new features, including search features, we look at a number of metrics, including long term profitability, to see how these new features impact the customer experience and our business as any rational store would, but we do not make decisions based on that one metric.”