Chris’s Store: Amazon’s Over-Personalization

I’m generally impressed with Amazon’s uncanny ability to predict the next book I will buy. On more than one occasion, I have clicked the Amazon link in my bookmarks on the day a new book comes out, only to have that book specifically recommended for me based on my buying history. I fully expect them to just start shipping them to arrive at my door the day I decide to buy them. It’s certainly not rocket science, especially given the fact that there are a handful of authors whose books I anticipate like a batter waiting for a high fastball. It’s also kind of handy at times. Amazon’s recommendation engine can also be pretty funny.

My Problem With It

Sometimes I want to see what other people like. I walk into my local Chapters bookstore in Vancouver every couple of lunch hours and wander around to see what catches my eye. I have a wide range of interests and the books I pick up for a quick skim are often outside of my regular “buying pattern”. One does not develop a well-rounded view of anything by sticking with one author, or reading from one viewpoint.

My concern is that this practice serves only to strengthen polarized views on important topics. People who buy a book by a political pundit of left or right persuasion will likely, on subsequent visits, be sold on buying a book by someone with equal leanings, and all the recommended books will be those of the same ilk, excluding books that will challenge the reader to look at the other side.

Why It Will Never Change

Stores want you to buy another book, and yet another book, and also the DVD that the author put out to capitalize on the book. Showing a customer a stack of books that reinforces their viewpoint makes them feel good, and people who feel good buy stuff. Marketing 101.

What I’d like to See

On my last visit to Amazon–the visit that prompted this post—I looked at a book by one of my favourite authors, and added it to my cart, as I do when I want to think it over for a while (Amazon will keep stuff in your cart for years). When I went back to the home page, I was shown no less than twelve books by that author, dating back to the 80s. That’s overkill to say the least. In that situation, I would expect to be shown one or two of his other books, as well as some other books on the same topic, but given that I’ve purchased many books through Amazon, they certainly have the data to present a more rounded group of books that fit my interests. It just seems as though they are trying to bombard me with as much as possible as a last-ditch attempt to get me to buy one more thing. It must work, or they would not bother to do it, but it lessens the experience for this shopper.