When ecommerce product recommendations go horribly, horribly wrong

A cautionary tale for etailers and customers alike…

A dear friend of mine was shopping for bits for his boat and typed ‘Harken’ into Ebay. Harken are a big manufacturer of boat bits. Seems ok, so far.

Scrolling down on the second page of results, he stumbled across a boat bit he’d never seen before. Being an inquisitive type, he clicked on it and was a little shocked when he realised it wasn’t for use on a boat, but for use somewhere altogether less… nautical.

Click to view ‘Harken’ sailing products on Ebay, page 2. NSFW.

That evening, our friend was in the pub with mates from his local sailing club and mentioned what he’d stumbled across when searching for Harken products online. Whipping out his smartphone, he went to Ebay again to show what he’d found. Oh how the hours flew by as they speculated what this item might be used for on a boat.

And here’s the crunch… ¬†over the next few weeks he went on to show many people this anomaly in the Ebay search results, merrily clicking on the mystery item hundreds, if not thousands of times.

Ebay’s product recommendation smarts have of course noticed this behaviour, to the point where Ebay believes our friend is really interested in this type of ‘exotic’ sailing kit. The ‘Other items you might be interested in..’ emails into the family computer have led to some fairly tense conversations with his wife who’s now convinced that his sailing trips are a cover for his ‘alternative lifestyle activities’.

There’s no easy way to clear your browsing history on the vast majority of ecom websites, Ebay and Amazon included. The only option is to close your account and start again – losing your Buyer/Seller rankings in the process.

There’s a moral in this tale for both customers and managers of ecom websites.

  • Customers
    Your relationship with an ecommerce website will probably last a lifetime. Your browsing history is under the store’s control, not yours, ever. So bear this in mind when you’re browsing – there is no ‘Clear History’ button like the one in your browser.
  • Etailers
    Give customers a way of managing the product recommendations or their browsing history on your website. By giving the customer a greater sense of control you’re building trust and in turn, loyalty. Lifetime of a Customer is an important KPI for many businesses and a metric we could probably improve on with this type of feature.


 

Keywords

ecommercemarketingprivacyretail


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