Amazon’s Choice: A Powerful Yet Inscrutable Badge

Amazon’s Choice: A Powerful Yet Inscrutable Badge

If you make frequent purchases on Amazon, you’ve surely come across a badge marking certain products as “Amazon’s Choice.” Perhaps you’ve thought, “If it’s good enough for Amazon, it’s good enough for me,” and clicked “Buy Now.”

That’s the stance I took until I was recently in the market for a pair of wireless earbuds. My initial Amazon search turned up a pair of Bluetooth buds called the “ENACFIRE E18” bearing Amazon’s recommendation. Not only was this a brand I’d never heard of, but the product image displayed a string of blue electrical pulses drawing the earbuds to their charging case. The cheesy graphics set off alarm bells in my head.

I visited the ENACFIRE website where I found a landing page filled with stock images into which ENACFIRE’s products were poorly Photoshopped. The “About Us” page features a single, slightly surreal line: “ENACFIRE is established on April 2016 and devoted to offering the best quality cables and customer service to our customers.” To clarify, the website does not sell cables (the ENACFIRE are wireless, after all).

Now, maybe the ENACFIRE E18s are great and really do deserve all four of its Amazon review grade stars. But I was having doubts. And I began questioning what criteria informs “Amazon’s Choice.”

The initial clues are spare. Hovering your cursor over the badge reveals a box displaying this text: “Amazon’s Choice recommends highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately.” By this description, a product must qualify in three categories to earn the badge: reviews, price, and availability.

But these categories leave many questions unanswered. Does Amazon’s staff review the products? Are only Amazon user reviews considered? Does Amazon consider outside reviewers like Consumer Reports or CNET? What in the world does “well-priced” mean? Are companies paying for the privilege of being awarded “Amazon’s Choice”?

Amazon has been coy in answering these questions. David Carnoy, a writer for CNET, asked Amazon about the label. Amazon responded with a masterful, slightly sinister non-answer worthy of the best PR men:

“We launched Amazon’s Choice in 2015 as a way to simplify shopping for customers by highlighting highly rated, well-priced products ready to ship immediately for the most popular searches on Amazon. It’s been a really popular feature both on Amazon and on Alexa, because it allows customers to make fast and easy decisions on what to buy. Amazon’s Choice is just our recommendation, and customers can always ask for specific brands or products if they choose.”

Thankfully, Carnoy dug a little deeper. Here’s we know based on Carnoy’s article and my own digging:

First, companies are not directly involved in Amazon’s selection of their products. OneSpace Blog put out a guide listing steps companies can take to improve the odds their products are selected, but product rejiggering can only get them so far. This suggests there’s no pay-for-play dynamic attached to the badge.

Second, Amazon does not test the products, nor does it rely on expert reviews from outside its site. Therefore, the “highly rated” part of the equation is only as reliable as the user reviews Amazon has accumulated—a worrisome proposition indeed.

Third, nobody seems to know what “well-priced” means. The term doesn’t seem to be connected to comparisons of similar products. Bose SoundSport wireless headphones have also been labeled “Amazon’s Choice” and have a similar review score to the ENACFIRE E18s but are three times.

Fourth, apparently search terms have some bearing on which products get the badge. A search on Amazon’s site for both “wireless earbuds” and “wireless headphones” yields the ENACFIRE E18s. In the former search, they get a badge; in the latter, they don’t.

Finally, to be designated “Amazon’s Choice,” the product must be eligible for Prime Shipping.

With all this in mind, it’s clear that, just as the website describes, the “Amazon’s Choice” badge is generated based upon an algorithm that balances criteria from the three listed categories – highly rated, well-priced, and readily available. But the details that define that criteria remain mysterious.

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