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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.

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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