According to Amazon, I’m interested in buying 5kg of peanuts, a multi-purpose screwdriver, some lithium batteries, Katie Price’s latest autobiography, an album by Rhianna, and Mellissa and Doug’s Chunky Animal Puzzle. Though, in addition to wondering why people now seem to need several autobiographies to describe one life, I’d have to say that I’m definitely not interested in any of these seemingly random recommendations.
In the world of commerce, and in one of my previous lives in the retaining industry, they call it “related selling”. If somebody buys a tin of paint, you make every effort to sell them a brush, wood filler, undercoat, sandpaper, masking tape, and brush cleaner. I’ve seen this technique double the value of a sale when done properly. It even works to the customers’ advantage because they feel like they’ve been “looked after” and don’t have to drive back to the store to get the things they forgot.
However, in our superstore-based and technology-driven world it seems to be somewhat less precise and successful. Without the personal service of an assistant behind the counter, all superstores can do is organize displays so that related items are next to each other. But online there are much richer opportunities. Today Amazon’s home page lists 35 items that I “might be interested in”, and if I bother to click the links in each section it will show me another hundred or so.
Of course, they create these lists by data-mining my previous purchase history. They know I bought a 5kg bag of peanuts only a week ago, so they must think I have some really voracious visitors to my bird feeder. And even though they only delivered the new batteries for my camera yesterday, they obviously think I’m a fanatical photographer and I’ll need more already. And, yes, I did buy a new door lock about three months ago. Though, unless they have been secretly communicating with my wife, how do they know I haven’t fitted it yet? Perhaps they think I don’t have a screwdriver, and that’s why it’s in the “might be interested in” list.
I suppose the book and album are there because they know my wife likes Katie Price and Rhianna, based on my history of buying birthday presents. Though neither she nor I have much interest in games designed for children aged 2 to 5. But best of all, after a minor confrontation over household dustbins on our last collection day, I bought a large self-adhesive number 2 to prevent future ownership confusion. Amazon is pleased to suggest that now I “might be interested in” a number 1 and a number 3 to go with it. Related sales algorithm failure, I suspect.
And this lack of sensible related product selection isn’t limited to online retailers. While I’m not a regular visitor to fast food outlets, we do occasionally partake of a drive-through. Now, I know that we’re all supposed to be reducing our salt intake, but fries without salt seem very bland. Yet none of them include one of those tiny packets of salt by default – you have to ask for it. And then every time, without fail and despite asking for “one packet of salt” to go with the tiny bag of fries, they shove half a dozen packets into the bag. Perhaps somebody should tell their accountants.
Mind you, they also include a dozen paper napkins – though I suspect that’s because they know I’ll get ketchup all down the front of my shirt…