August 20, 2006

Amazon.com Refresh

Give this little exercise a try. Visit www.amazon.com, assuming you are automatically logged-in as an existing customer. A page customized just for you should appear. In my case, books about ecological statistics appear, which is a problem, because I last purchased a book on ecological statistics seven or eight years ago, and have no interest in doing so ever again.

So I hit the "refresh" button at the top of my Firefox browser.. And a new page appears. My recommendations disappear. New products appear. So I hit the "refresh" button again. Again, a new page appears, featuring new products, dynamically loaded for my viewing pleasure.

When I put on my "Database Marketing Executive" hat, I feel embarrassed. It feels like technology has passed me by, and the skills I have to deal with the modern world are hopelessly lost in a time-warp where I am competing with Montgomery Wards.

But then I put on my "Amazon Customer" hat, and I see that Amazon, for all of their technological genius, has no idea who I am or what I am interested in. In addition to the outdated preferences in reading material, they featured furniture, five-hundred of my favorite beauty brands (huh?), a Veronica Mars DVD, a back-to-school MIDI controller, and a recommendation to visit one of their partner sites, "Weight Watchers" (ok, maybe they know me a little bit better than I thought).

As Database Marketers, we shouldn't use technology just because we can use technology. If we can use our fancy mathematical algorithms to effectively target merchandise that is relevant to my lifestyle today, then by all means, we should take advantage of the technology. But if the end-result is what Amazon presents to me, then the technology can negatively impact the relationship between customer and brand. The merchandise a company offers should be the primary factor influencing a purchase decision, not the shortcomings of a targeting algorithm created by a database marketer.

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