Amazon Choice Smells An Awful Lot Like Pay-To-Play
Beginning in 2017 Amazon began offering brands a new service called “Amazon Choice” (AC), to help drive sales on their platform. AC seemed simple enough – brands’ products would receive a check mark on the screen denoting their status and (of course) would be prioritized higher up in the search order. In return for the AC designation, brands would agree to dropping the price of featured items. Initially this seemed like a pretty cozy arrangement all around – brands received more exposure through Amazon’s recommendation algo, Amazon was able to press its cost-leader advantage against other eComm rivals, and customers received lower prices for these item.
The story of the Amazon Choice program could have ended there except for one previously overlooked detail. According to several industry sources, Amazon was also attaching an ad spending condition in order for brands to receive AC status. So the pitch to brands actually went something like this – drop your prices and give us an ad spending commitment, and in return we’ll give you the Amazon Choice moniker. Sound a little like pay-to-play to you?
When this issue came to light in June, publishers like BuzzFeed started to analyze the products which were featured in the program. They found several instances of AC products being inferior brands with poor reviews, yet they were still featured with Amazon’s stamp of approval because they were presumably paying for the designation. Not exactly helpful to customers, right?
Over the past week two Senators have called on Jeff Bezos to explain Amazon Choice and if brands were paying for access to the platform. While AC still exists it’s not clear whether Amazon is still requiring a media buy as part of the deal. It’ll be interesting to find out more details once this program gets pulled into the light of day.