How can Amazon still have such suckass search a quarter century and billions into it?


Right now, I have in my house the wrong oven knob for my stove and the wrong filters for my vacuum because of reliance on searches like that.

I used to do this but now I just search every site indexed by Google. I often find better prices elsewhere and I like to support Amazon’s competitors. .

I think poor search is primarily intended to increase ad sales, not sales of goods. The short story is that Amazon sold roughly $16 billion in ads last year, which is almost all profit for them. If they had a really good search engine, they would have fewer opportunities to serve up ads. If you put in a very specific search term and there were no results because Amazon didn’t have it, they couldn’t put up any ads. Instead, their search engine posts hundreds or thousands of mostly irrelevant results and you have to click on a bunch of them, Every click on a “sponsored post” is money in their pocket, regardless of whether you buy something.

The truth is, Amazon does not make much if anything selling goods. According to Amazon’s 2021 10-K, Sales from physical and online stores (online revenue of $197.3B, physical sales of $16.2B, but cost of sales of $233.3B) don’t make money. That is, they lost about $20 billion last year selling goods. If you add in revenue from “subscription services” ($25.2B , mostly, Amazon Prime subscriptions), this combined business made roughly $5 billion, not including the cost of Amazon Prime content (an inscrutable number, buried in $42.7 billion of “technology and content” expenses). But, their ad revenue alone was $16.2 billion. The ads they sell earn more than Amazon’s entire business of selling goods online or in stores.

They run a break-even store to attract buyers, then they run a bad search engine populated with a lot of ads to keep those buyers (fruitlessly or not) clicking on the ads.

It might seem counterproductive in the long run to focus on selling ads that don’t generate many sales because, presumably, advertisers would see declining value in the ads over time and pay less for them. Maybe that will happen and Amazon’s search engine will get better butit doesn’t seem to have happened yet.

Amazon is an organization that ruthlessly and relentlessly eliminates the type of corporate inertia that stalls other companies. I don’t think this is it.

The best shopping site is Google, which effectively combines them all. Don’t search site by site.

Because once I’ve decided to buy something, Walmart might have it in stock for less. It’s happened at least a couple of times in the pandemic. And I hate Walmart.

I blame a lot of that on the factors @ZipperJJ listed – most of the items on Amazon don’t have complete tags of their attributes. And fwiw, I have much better luck finding what I want on Amazon than on most other sites I search. But yeah, they probably don’t actually want to optimize it. And I suppose I always start with a google search, so I’m cheating.

I find the “customers who shopped this also shopped that” feature incredibly helpful on Amazon, fwiw.

Both Mac Mail (or whatever comes standard on my mac) and Outlook (the windows standard) do these things. So I think there are a lot of email solutions that would work for @Icarus

Be careful doing this, though. All those scam sellers on Amazon now have scam stores, indexed by Google. As easy as it is to become an Amazon seller it’s just as easy to set up a Shopify store with all the same stolen photos and pricing. And these stores are advertised all over Facebook as well.

I was just looking to buy a replacement exhaust fan for my bathroom. I found it on a bunch of sites. One site was $10 less than the others. The site looked incredibly legit. Paypal pay! Google Pay! I was just about ready to check out when I decided to do my regular check and see what the About Us page looked like. As soon as I read it, I knew it was a scam:

A generic About Us page with some awkward wording, which when put into Google shows up on other sites verbatim. Busted “PayPal Verified”, Instagram and Twitter links. No FAQ, no shipping info. Just a boilerplate copy of some other site. The contact email is for some other site.

I see at least one of these a week, usually from my friends who were googling to buy something that looked cool or that was cheaper than anywhere else. I do my usual check and always find it to be a scam.

ISTM that stores that show up as Google Shopping links tend to be more trustworthy than ones that just show up in Google search results. Google Shopping must do some vetting.

Anyway, as I said…it’s the Wild West out there. There’s scammers around every corner when it comes to shopping. You need to be diligent and not just buy what is the cheapest priced version of what you’re looking for.

Online shopping is a bounty but now the cup overfloweth. With scammers.

Yes, this makes sense. But it does not change the conclusion Amazon has good reasons for doing things the way they do.

I believe the reason for that is that there’s no reason to return 15,000 results the first time. If I search for “iphone”, I’m not going to go to result 2001 to get what I need, so why would Amazon get them all to me? But if I sort “price: low to high”, now it’s going to pull up a bunch of extra crap so it can get all the cheap stuff first.

I’ve seen this a lot with iPhone cables. Always check the reviews, if only to make sure the rating is for the item you’re looking to purchase.

Fair enough. I generally order from big names, like Amazon, Target, and Walmart, or smaller companies I am familiar with. Before I take a flyer on a small company (like for auto parts) I google reviews. And I am generally using Google Shopping.

Yeah that’s usually how I go too. I’ve found a few nice smaller online retailers that I like for different stuff that way as well. The aforementioned part I needed, I ended up buying on which I had purchased from before. They ship holy-moly-super-fast!

Maybe a site with a much narrower array of products?

I suspect it’s hard to design a good search function that works for a vast array of different kinds of products, from thousands of different sources.

There’s a related discussion about Facebook ads going on in another thread.

It’s related because it talks about the shitty products in ads there, which are the same shitty products in Amazon search results, and those Google search results I mentioned, and on Wal Mart’s site too.

Someone linked to a WaPo article on the topic. Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall but I’m a subscriber now (thanks to that link lol)

Check out I’ve used it in the past for Amazon products but most of the time I come away frustrated knowing that everything I want is “probably fake”. :frowning:

Has anyone else experienced “Everything is a Watch”? Goes like this: see ad for cool product ata really great price, almost guaranteed to be $19.99 or $29.99. Order. Wait. Receive the nebulous gray plastic package from China.
My icemaker turned out to be a watch.
Then my cool useful sidetable arrived…as a watch!
Finally, the amazing bedlift support is actually…well, no, it wasn’t a watch, it turned out to be a hideous bejeweled compact mirror.

Niiiice - and I’ve seen this myself. I went back to look at a review I’d written of some earbuds. I used the link from my order history - and saw something completely different. Ditto a few other things. And sometimes they’ll have a bunch of different options on the same product page - which are completely different items (different types of laptop fans; that’s one I recall) so you have no clue which of them is meant.

I suspect Amazon either deliberately allows / encourages this, or can’t be arsed to respond to “incorrect information” reports.

Their flagging of purchases as “sensitive” is fun too. I was looking up my own review history once and saw a few items listed that would not be shown on my reviewer page due to the sensitive nature of the items. Now, this was not anything like sex toys or incontinence garb or anything. I truly do not care who knows that I bought a sling for my injured wrist, nor scar-reducing silicone strips for the same. And it’s baffling to me why they flagged a TOTE BAG in that category. Dunno what they thought I’d be carrying in that thing.

That’s actually a smart way to program a search engine. 99% of people will select among the first N results and won’t bother looking at the rest. So you design a search engine that returns only the 2 * N results with the best chance of being what the user is looking for based on some complex algorithm. Another algorithm spits out an approximation like “2113 results” (which most people won’t try counting). Search results are returned by a different server from one time to the next, to even out the load, and each server may be working with a slightly different copy of the entire catalog. That’s sufficient to service 75 million queries a second. And it’s basically what Google does, too, although its algorithms are probably better.

If somebody actually wants sorted results (“oh, you want the search search!”), then the search gets redone by the “exhaustive search” algorithm, on yet another server, which doesn’t work quite the same way, and the resulting list (which contains 17220 items after all, sorry not sorry) gets sorted and shown. (AFAIK, you can’t ask Google Search to sort the results.)

Ebay has a good search. Proper boolean

The “newer version of this item” results that show up occasionally are nonsense more often than not. (No, a wall charger (and nothing else) is not a “newer version” of a combination wall charger and portable battery pack.)

How do they know you weren’t planning to keep sensitive items in a tote bag? :smiley: They might consider that plausible, because this is the same search engine that told me that an instance of this sort of product was the #3 most popular bathroom item the day I looked for toilet paper holders so clearly they’re driven by whimsy more than logic (or have a childish idea of what a “log” is…!)

There’s an MSN article from today about Amazon manipulating the search returns, by the way. And it turns out that the postscript to the story ZipperJJ showed us is that Amazon actually owns a lot of the knock-off brands.

Somehow, almost everything I look at is "#1 in " some oddball category, or “Amazon’s Choice”. Often it’s a very weird, highly specific description such as "purple cooler with zipper and outside pocket’ or something equally specific.

And yeah, the “newer version” is often just a DIFFERENT version, generally more expensive, often OLDER. The fact that they keep old reviews when the item is now something completely different seems to be a policy of deliberately allowing scams.

And sometimes they’ll have a boatload of very different items (like very different models of laptop fans, that’s one I remember well) under the same “item” - so you have no CLUE what the reviews are for.

There is an option, sometimes, if you dig far enough, to filter reviews by “type” or something where occasionally you can see just the relevant reviews.