Friday, August 10, 2012

A Misleading Sort--How Amazon's Listings May Trick you out of Seeing the Best Deal

Or how Product Placement is Just as Important Online as in Brick-and-Mortar Stores, and How it can to Trick the Buyer, Intended or Not.

Click the picture above and note in the upper right-hand corner that "Price+shipping" (meaning lowest total charge to highest, displayed from top to bottom) is the user choice. Also note that just above that one can see that the lowest price available is plainly $17.93, but that the very first listing actually displayed is $22.86. Now take a look at these pictures: they are a progression of pictures of the listing taken as one scrolls down; notice that some of the lowest total prices for the same item are toward the very bottom of the listing rather than interspersed above where they belong.

Ostensibly this is because the prices above are prices by "Featured Merchants", a category defined in a black box (i.e. unnamed metrics), about which there are supposings online, and one justifying the kerfuffle of not correctly listing total prices in order as a user indicates by menu with supposings here,'s own description here, The excerpts that, IMHO, are the juicy bits:
Featured Merchants are Pro Merchant sellers who have met performance-based requirements. There is no additional fee for being a featured merchant, and sellers must maintain their performance levels in order to retain the status of Featured Merchant. Sellers with Featured Merchant status gain placement advantages for their listings on
Status as a Pro Merchant
To translate this, the first exerpt is "sellers who make us a lot of money through volume sales from which we take our percentage cuts", and the second is "sellers who pay us money to sell every month" (which is required, btw, to make volume sales per month).

What troubles me about this is that it takes the customer out of the center: one might be fairly certain this dupes customers, due to mis-placement, into seeing only higher-even if just slightly--priced items rather than the lower ones, and not buying the lowest priced items. If a user inputs "show me total charge price from lowest to highest", that's what the system should do: it should not catering to merchants (and so benefiting itself) by overriding that preference without very big, loud, plain, in-your-face disclosures warning the purchaser of that system behavior.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't necessary want people buy the cheapest first: I am selling complete NES systems (both controls, power units, and other accessories all included) which makes it LOOK like I am not the cheapest seller in the listing (given that the listing is for just the console without those other things) and unfortunately there is not way for me to differentiate my product on Amazon due to that real distinction of all-inclusive, and I am even selling some of these cards for a few bucks more (total) than the lowest price (because unlike the lowest priced listing, also by a featured merchant, I have attached no weasel wording abut the cards being mint but maybe played with slight wear), but it still strikes me as unethical when some functionality is presented that is actually deviating in behavior without explicitly warning the customer at every divergence from what a reasonably intelligent person who is paying attention would expect.

I doubt the average buyer on cares that someone sells massive quantities: as long as what they are buying is a good deal, and's protection scheme is in place, and comparatively it's the exact same thing as the other listings in both design and condition, they probably then want to truly find, not be duped out of, what is the cheapest one of all. 


KI['s]SS: "The Customer is ALWAYS right", now fix it please! Though I am a seller now, I am also a customer, and this customer is about to go back through receipts to discover if he was mislead trusting that you listed items as expected whenever I chose "[list items from lowest to highest total price]".

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