Many experts assume the social recommendation system is its killer feature.

But what exactly about this feature makes it so? What in fact is the magic sauce of Amazon?

Sure, there is some predictive value in keeping track of many different variables. There always is. It’s Amazon’s best kept secret.

But I am guessing it’s not only a secret for people outside of Amazon. If you would ask me what the most persuasive ingredient is of the sauce, I would say it’s copy.

The smartest algorithms make sure you get to see products that you love (to buy). A recommendation engine knows what you really want, what you really really want. Computing thousands of variables is the key to predicting consumer behavior.

Nah, I don’t buy it. The black box probably does have an impact, but I know for sure the copy has.

The power of a few simple words

The words 'Customers who bought this also bought' are cues of social proof. A very well known persuasive principle from social psychology.

Offers that are accompanied with a social proof message will be more effective than with a neutral message.

What if Amazon would use its recommendation technology and label it with 'you could also try'? That would be a neutral message.

A/B test 'you could also try' versus 'customers who bought this also bought' and you will get an idea of how much of Amazon’s sauce is technology and how much copy.

And while you are at it, also test 'our editors recommend' as copy with authority cues. I bet you it will do better than the neutral version.

More and more scientists understand the essential part that psychology plays in what appears to be technological enhanced commerce.

If technology gives you an unfair competitive advantage, it’s essential to know what is really at play. It’s not enough to say your blackbox is the secret sauce. We shouldn’t spend millions of dollar on technology, just for the sake of technology.

Or should we?

People who bought recommender systems also bought yachts

The rise of the machines? Not so fast …

I am not a technologist myself. That’s why I like bashing technology. I do run a high-end software boutique though. I am amazed by the number of companies that seem to have an undying hunger for more technology, while most of the time I don’t see much reason for it.

A small sidestep...

Why do you think people buy yachts? Is it because they need a reliable means of transportation? To get them from A to B? Most probably not. Maybe because they need a place where they can host bunga bunga parties?

Getting warmer…

I think it’s safe to say that showing off to peers is a big part of the reason why luxurious yachts are being bought. “Darling… Henry bought his wife a yacht, so I was thinking of getting one for ourselves as well”.

Is a recommender system the best investment if you want to go from A to B? If you want to persuade people to buy your products I wouldn’t recommend putting all your hopes in blackbox technology.

The true killer app

I would advise you to better understand the psychology of consumer behavior.

Knowing why people buy will get you that unfair advantage that technology so often promises.

Understanding other people’s behavior might even shed light on why we buy recommender systems, or throw bunga bunga parties for that matter.

Photo credit: MookieLuv

Arjan Haring

Published 30 October, 2013 by Arjan Haring

Arjan Haring is Co-founder at Science Rockstars and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (6)

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stephen black

This article should be framed, tattooed,sung, translated, broadcast and required reading for anyone who is serious about internet sales. A pencil, some paper,basic internet access, great copy and commitment will beat any blackbox technology. Robots don't buy.The article's insight into the 'people who bought this' phrase....WOW! Thank you.
(excuse me, I have to get back to the bunga bunga party on my canoe)

almost 5 years ago

Arjan Haring

Arjan Haring, Cofounder at Science Rockstars

Hi Stephen,

Thanks so much.
I am delighted you liked the article.

And have fun on your canoe!

P.s. You can read the translation in Dutch here ;)

almost 5 years ago


Taz Hussain

Great article - I have shared it with our marketing team :)

almost 5 years ago

Arjan Haring

Arjan Haring, Cofounder at Science Rockstars

Thanks Taz!

almost 5 years ago


Arthur Turksma

Hi Arjan,

I love the simplicity of your article. About a year ago I hired a gifted copywriter with a vast interest in human behaviour. Now I've read your article, it made me realize that because of that, I now have a way better understanding of our own secret sauce, let alone our clients :)

cheers buddy!

almost 5 years ago

Arjan Haring

Arjan Haring, Cofounder at Science Rockstars

Thanks so much Arthur.

I think it's good for anyone in business to have a better understanding of human behavior. It's much more effective when a professional can blend it with his own expertise.

In this case copywriting. My advise; keep him/her happy ;)

almost 5 years ago

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