Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

We’ve all seen this.  Anyone who has bought a book or some music online, or indeed any product, will have been given some suggestions as to what to buy next.  It’s a popular way of trying to upsell.  The assumption is that if you bought one thing you must have liked it and so would like to buy something similar.  These choices are all driven by algorithms and their developers have assumed certain criteria on order to make them work.

This all makes sense in certain circumstances.  Those who bought Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone may well wish to go on and buy the Chamber of Secrets.  I say may as the reader might not have liked the first book and so probably would not like the second either.  But that is getting off the point.  It is quite understandable that people’s tastes can be similar and expressing a preference for one item could indicate a similar penchant for another.

Yet this is a worrying trend.  If all we ever bought were recommendations based upon what other people bought then we would end up in an ever narrowing spiral of choice.  Sticking with books, if a person buys book A and is recommended to buy book B etc. etc. then with each recommendation the choice would be honed down until the reader would eventually end up reading ostensibly the same book over and over again.  It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If the only books you read are those that are recommended to you and those that are recommended are based upon your previous choices then you will reading canon will become restricted over time.  You may end up reading nothing but wizard fiction.  In the end nothing but wizard fiction may be published.

What we need is to take a chance from time to time.  We need to browse about, pick up those things which may not appeal to us at first glance and give them a go. We never know, the book we picked up may be the best thing we have ever read.

Perhaps we need a section Customers Who Bought This Item Never Considered, or Customers Who Bought This Hated These, or Customers Who Bought This Didn’t Go On to Buy the Sequel.

2 thoughts on “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

  1. Hey Phil,

    Are you talking about the ‘those that bought X also bought Y’ here, or are you talking about ‘check out these similar items’?

    There’s a difference between your headline and where I think your actual gripe is.

    The concept of ‘Those who bought X also bought Y’ isn’t to cross sell a similar item. It’s to cross sell any item, not necessarily similar. In fact, it’s usually an additional or complementary product.

    For example, if you buy a camera from Amazon, you’ll be cross sold a lens or a carry case or a memory card based on the ‘those that bought X also bought Y’ theory. It’s a way to use social norms and peer influence/social recommendations to encourage additional sales and it actually works pretty well. The buyer gets the reassurance they need to make a complimentary purchase and you’ll often save a few quid in doing so.

    For the ‘try these similar items’ side of things, this mostly happens when people don’t purchase as a way to encourage them to do so. If you’re on a webpage looking at a TV, you’ll be recommended similar TVs on the same page – similar size and spec. This is the retailer understanding that you might not purchase that TV because you might just be doing research. Here, the retailer is trying to save you the hassle of searching through the entire catalogue of TVs when you’ve already expressed an interest in a particular model, it’s easier to show you items that are similar to the one you’ve already expressed an interest in.

    Of course, not all retailers use this theory to good effect and sometimes that can lead to things like this being used out of context and in inappropriate places… Perhaps that’s your actual gripe?

    1. Thanks for your comment. It was not so much a gripe but an observation and perhaps a plea. I was referring mostly to book purchases where, for example when I bought a book by Viktor Frankl I was recommended books about psychotherapy or the holocaust. If I was to buy one of these it would enhance my ‘preferences’ and I would be recommended every increasingly similar experiences. My plea is that there are other experiences out there and that we should all try something new from time to time.

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