Amazon has changed its algorithm to benefit its profitability, pushing its own products higher in search, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday (Sept. 16).
People related to the project told the WSJ that Amazon “optimized the secret algorithm” in its search results to feature the products Amazon would most benefit from instead of ranking the bestsellers and most relevant items.
The tweaked algorithm has not yet been publicized. Amazon executives and the company’s search team, which is called A9, have been arguing about the change for over a year, sources told the paper.
Changes to Amazon’s search algorithm is a big deal for the site’s sellers, as the position of products on a page can greatly affect sales. Most people make buying decisions based on first-page search results, according to analytics firm Jumpshot.
The matter comes at a time when the online giant is being probed by the U.S. and the European Union over its roles as both a marketplace and seller of its own brands. The new algorithm could unfairly drive customers to items that give Amazon more profits than its competitors on the site.
The first initiative to fold profitability into the algorithm was prohibited by Amazon’s lawyers because it could forge problems with antitrust regulators, the source told the news outlet. Amazon’s search team was at odds with the notion of building profits into search rankings because it was against the company’s fundamentals to serve the customer, they added.
“This was definitely not a popular project,” said one source. “The search engine should look for relevant items, not for more profitable items.”
However, long-range profitability has always been considered by Amazon when adjusting the algorithm. “We have not changed the criteria we use to rank search results to include profitability,” said Amazon spokeswoman Angie Newman in an emailed statement to WSJ.
Regulatory probes prompted the eCommerce giant in April to remove prominent ads for some of its private-label products. The removal of the ads coincides with politicians becoming more vocal about regulation for large tech companies, and about the fact that Amazon is promoting its own products.