Are Amazon’s “Also-Boughts” Going the Way of the Dodo?

Y’all know what I mean by “also-boughts,” right? They’re the line of products Amazon lists on every product’s sales page under the banner “Customers who bought this item also bought,” or if the product hasn’t sold quite enough, “Customers who viewed this item also viewed.” As an Amazon shopper, I love the also-boughts. They’re one of the central ways I find products: either they guide me to additional products people like me tend to want, or they guide me to products similar to but better than the one I’m considering. I also love also-boughts as an Amazon author.

Image shows the first set of 6 also-bought products on the Nolander book page, preceded by the headline "Customers who bought this item also abought"; the first also-bought product is Solatium; beneath the also-boughts, 3 more books appear under the headline "Sponsored products related to this item."

Nolander’s also-boughts (above) helpfully indicate that readers of my first book are likely to buy my second. They also show 16 pp. of books by other authors whose readership overlaps with mine. This function makes also-boughts a great way for readers to find new authors and for authors to find new readers. Win-win.

Worryingly, there’s a thread on KBoards reporting that some people aren’t seeing also-boughts on book pages right now. Others are reporting them moved to the bottom or side of the page and/or reduced in number.

I’m still seeing also-boughts in the usual number and location, on both my laptop and my phone, and others are too, so the differences some are reporting could be a glitch. But we have in the past noticed Amazon conducting A/B testing, wherein some users are shown one version of a page and others are shown another, with the behavior of the two groups of shoppers presumably being tracked and compared. If A/B testing is happening happening right now with also-boughts, it means Amazon may be considering doing away with them or making them less prominent.

If also-boughts disappear, what would replace them? Another line of sponsored products, perhaps? You can see these products in the image above: they appear under Nolander’s also-boughts. As you can see, there are only a few books. That’s because I’m a very small seller, so other authors are not targeting their book ads at my readership. Authors who move a lot of books have their readership targeted far more heavily. Here’s an example from another author’s book page:

image shows the text "Sponsored products related to this item," with book covers underneath, cropped for anonymity; to the right, smaller text reads "page 1 of 82," indicated we are seeing the first of 82 pages of sponsored products

This author’s also-boughts are heavily weighted toward their own books because readers like their books and tend to purchase them en masse. Their also-boughts thus function as a substantial advertisement for their own backlist. A free advertisement. close-up of the previous image, with the number of pages of also-boughts (82) circled in red for noticeabilityWhat’s not so free? The 82 pp. of “sponsored” books this page is hosting. You get one of these sponsored book slots by purchasing advertising through Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). So, each one of those advertised books represents a revenue source for Amazon. I don’t know about you, but I can imagine there might be some temptation to replace all those non-revenue-generating also-boughts with another line of sponsored books. Instead of 82 pp., 164! Surely any company would consider it.

But. BUT. Are also-boughts really non-revenue-generating? As a shopper — and I am a major Amazon shopper — I click on also-boughts all the time. They’re an amazing repository of crowd-sourced consumer wisdom. I click on also-boughts far more often than I click on sponsored products. Sponsored products represent what their sellers hope people like me want; also-boughts represent what people like me actually buy. They’re visual evidence of how tons of other shoppers have voted with their wallets, and that’s just about the best endorsement you can get.

If also-boughts make me buy stuff — and they do — then they’re revenue-generating, eh? Perhaps more reliably so than sponsored products, which are “cost-per-click” — Amazon only gets paid for the ad if someone clicks on it. And clicking on the ad does not necessarily lead to buying the product. An advertised product could, theoretically, earn Amazon $0, but no product makes it into the also-bought system unless it’s been, well, bought. Products appearing in the also-boughts are proven earners.

Personally, I think also-boughts are one of online shopping’s two great advantages over brick-and-mortar retail (the other being the availability of customer reviews). Also-boughts are me happening to run into an acquaintance in the grocery store and having her say, “Hey, I know you care about getting antibiotics out of the food supply, and I know one of your kids is a super-finicky eater. Did you know Foster Farms just came out with antibiotic-free chicken breast nuggets? My finicky eater loves them. They’re sort of hard to find, but if you go to Aisle 12 and look at the very bottom shelf, about five feet down from the corndogs, you’ll see them. The package is yellow. Oh, and you might want to buy some ketchup to go with them. Gross, I know, but finicky eaters … whatcha gonna do?” Except all that happens behind the scenes, via algorithms analyzing the purchasing patterns of millions of shoppers, and it happens every single time. You don’t have to hope to run into someone. You don’t have to ask around. It’s just there, making the stuff you really need findable in an environment that truly does have everything from A to Z.

It’s worth mentioning that, from an author’s perspective, also-boughts are one of the only ways to gain quality visibility on the Amazon site if you don’t publish frequently, aren’t in Kindle Unlimited, and/or don’t have a lot of money to spend on ads. But hey … I’m trying to come at this from Amazon’s perspective. It’s a corporation; it’s going to act in its own self-interest. My own experience as a shopper suggests that maintaining clearly visible also-boughts is very much in Amazon’s self-interest.

So, you know. Hopefully what some folks are seeing is just a glitch. Big old fingers-crossed on that one. But if it’s not a glitch … Amazon, please don’t get rid of also-boughts. Add more lines of sponsored products, if you really must, but don’t take away the way I shop.

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