Tip for Amazon Designers: Lots of Folks Don’t Know How to Exclude Gifts from Recommendations

Amazon should make the ability to remove purchased items from recommendations much more apparent. Rashmi Sinha gave a great talk on Recommendation Systems at the UIE Web App Summit yesterday. I was like a kid in a candy store…it’s one of my favorite topics and Rashmi is a true expert on the topic. At one […]

Amazon should make the ability to remove purchased items from recommendations much more apparent.

Rashmi Sinha gave a great talk on Recommendation Systems at the UIE Web App Summit yesterday. I was like a kid in a candy store…it’s one of my favorite topics and Rashmi is a true expert on the topic.

At one point in the discussion following the talk, someone in the crowd described a situation that many of us are familiar with: we buy a gift for someone at Amazon and then all of our recommendations are colored going forward. If we buy a biography of Abraham Lincoln for a family member, for example, the system starts to recommend other biographies and maybe other books about the Civil War. This is not the desired result…because it’s not us who is interested in Lincoln but our family member.

This happens because Amazon uses all of the items we purchase as considerations for its recommendation system, by default, even though some of them shouldn’t be. (it could be that when you check “this is a gift” during a purchase that the item isn’t used for recommendations, but I rarely check that when ordering a gift anyway, and it’s not clear either way)

When the person was done narrating this story, everyone in the room groaned in unison. We’ve all had that happen, and it’s a frustrating part of an otherwise consistently good experience at Amazon.

Now, some people know that Amazon actually has a feature whereby you can tell the system not to use purchases as recommendations, but its buried in the “Items You Own” screen. And, to Amazon’s credit, if you are looking for it you’ll probably find it, as they’ve added some helpful text on your recommendations page that says “This was recommended because you purchased Color Index and more (edit)”. The word “edit” is a link that will take you to the Items You Own page so you can remove some items from consideration.

Here’s the kicker, though: most people in the room, some even seasoned Amazon users, did not know they could exclude items from recommendations! They didn’t know that you can easily remove items purchased as gifts from the Items You Own screen. That’s a shame…easily-fixable frustrations like that. With a small tweak Amazon could make this feature more widely-known.

I’m sure there are many possible ways to fix this.

Here’s one suggestion to prevent gift items from showing up in recommendations: put the choice to remove a product from future recommendation consideration somewhere in the purchase process, most likely at the end (after the transaction has taken place). This will make it more timely, and will get the attention of most people, since most people pay really close attention to a situation in which their money is leaving their hands.

Putting it too early in the process might slow down a shopper’s momentum, which Amazon definitely doesn’t want to do. So somewhere like the order confirmation page might be a great time to ask:

“Do you want us to include this product in our recommendations for you?”

At this point, after a person has bought a gift, is a good time to ask them to exclude that gift from their future recommendations. (and, if its not already happening, remove any items that are marked as gifts automatically)

That way, shoppers might be able to nip the problem in the bud, before they start seeing things recommended to them they have no interest in.

Published: January 24th, 2007

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