Summary of Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t.

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Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t. summary
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When you look on Amazon for a product, you might assume the item which appears at the top of the search results – in the “buy box” – is the best-priced deal. In fact, this isn’t always the case. So, how exactly does Amazon’s algorithm select the supposed best offer for its customers? In this article, ProPublica senior reporter Julia Angwin and contributing researcher Surya Mattu explore the factors which affect Amazon’s ranking algorithm, the effect of the algorithm on product sales, and the negative impact the algorithm can have for both customers and vendors who don’t join the company’s “pay-to-play” Fulfilled by Amazon program. getAbstract recommends this article to Amazon customers and vendors.

About the Authors

Julia Angwin is a senior reporter at ProPublica. During her time at The Wall Street Journal, she led a team that won a Gerald Loeb Award. Surya Mattu is a contributing researcher at ProPublica.



When you search for an item on Amazon, the process seems relatively straightforward: An algorithm ranks the results based on cost and availability (among other factors), and the “best” item then appears in a “buy box” – the box that appears at the top of the results. Recent tests of the algorithm, however, revealed two tendencies in Amazon’s ranking system:

  1. The algorithm seems to give preference to items sold by Amazon or by vendors who pay to participate in its Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) program. Looking at a selection...

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