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