Photo by Michele Doying / The Verge
Ever since Amazon introduced its “Amazon’s Choice” label in 2015 to recommend certain products, a skeptical world has been trying to find out what the badge actually means — because some items that are “Amazon’s Choice” really shouldn’t be.
Even if a product has the badge and seems to have a high star score, you still might wind up with a stinker that you’d have been warned against if you’d just done your homework, BuzzFeed reports today.
Some examples: a $23 breathalyzer that obviously stole positive reviews from entirely different products, and a $20 infant thermometer that Amazon’s own user review highlighting tool flags as a “waste of money”.
So far, no journalist seems to have gotten a straight answer from Amazon about whether the “Amazon’s Choice” badge is something a real human ever looks at or just a human-developed algorithm. CNET and Wired each took a stab in recent years and didn’t get much further than The Wall Street Journal did in 2015. On Amazon’s site, the official description is this:
Amazon’s Choice recommends highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately.
While Amazon told BuzzFeed that both humans and robots are involved, it didn’t explain how — and either way, it looks like they’re falling asleep on the job here.
Early last year, Reviewed.com noted that Amazon seemed to be justifying the badge with specific algorithmic reasons like if an item had a “low return rate,” was “highly rated” and was popular with people searching for a specific phrase like “best toaster oven” — but those callouts have since disappeared.
Amazon’s typical statement on the matter is this: “Amazon’s Choice is just our recommendation, and customers can always ask for specific brands or products if they choose.” But Amazon’s recommendation doesn’t mean much if the recommendation engine is getting fooled.