Category: Search & discovery

Does Amazon know what it sells?



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Of Amazon’s top 50 best-sellers in “Children's Vaccination & Immunisation”, close to 20 are by anti-vaccine polemicists and 5 are novels about fictional pandemics. This poses two questions. First, how much content moderation should a universal bookshop do? Second, does Amazon really know what it sells?

The content moderation questions here are closely related to those that applied when Facebook and Twitter banned the US president. A single newspaper or a bookshop has no obligation to give you a platform, but there are other newspapers and other bookshops - what does it mean if there are only three newspapers (or only three with significant reach) and they all ban you? Should they allow you to be on the platform, but not ‘amplify’ you either with an ‘algorithm’ or something as mechanical as a best-seller list (and of course being in the list will increase your sales, so that’s also a moderation choice). What books, exactly, do we want Amazon to ban, or to ‘down-rank’? Who decides? What if Amazon put those books in ‘conspiracy theories’ instead? I don’t think we have a settled consensus.

More interesting to me in this case, though, is the fact that five of the top 50 are not about “Children's Vaccination & Immunisation” at all - they’re novels! This is a much more general problem, that I think that reflects a pretty fundamental aspect of Amazon as a retailer - it does not, in important ways, actually know what it sells, and that has (Read more...)

Retail, rent and things that don’t scale



Morioka Shoten

Morioka Shoten

I generally think about retail as sitting on a spectrum from logistics to experience. At the logistics end, you know exactly what you want and retail’s job is to provide the most efficient way to get it. At the experience end, you don’t know, and retail’s job is to help you, with ideas, suggestion, curation and service.

Ecommerce began at the logistics end, as a new and (sometimes) more efficient way to get something. It’s not always more efficient - you don’t have your lunch mailed to your desk. Rather, the right logistics in retail is a matter of algebra. How much inventory is needed, how many SKUs, how big are the products, how fast can they be shipped, how often do you buy them, how far would you be willing to drive or walk, does the product need to be kept cold, or warm, what’s the cost per square foot - there are all sorts of possible inputs to the equation, and if you visualised them all you’d have a many-dimensional scatter diagram, that would tell you why Ikea has giant stores on the edge of town, why Walgreens has small local stores, and why you can buy milk on every block in Manhattan but not a fridge. 

The internet adds a new set of possibilities to that algebra. Amazon sells anything that can be stored on a shelf in a vast warehouse and shipped in a cardboard box. It doesn’t so much have ‘infinite shelf-space’ as (Read more...)

Retail, rent and things that don’t scale



Morioka Shoten

Morioka Shoten

I generally think about retail as sitting on a spectrum from logistics to experience. At the logistics end, you know exactly what you want and retail’s job is to provide the most efficient way to get it. At the experience end, you don’t know, and retail’s job is to help you, with ideas, suggestion, curation and service.

Ecommerce began at the logistics end, as a new and (sometimes) more efficient way to get something. It’s not always more efficient - you don’t have your lunch mailed to your desk. Rather, the right logistics in retail is a matter of algebra. How much inventory is needed, how many SKUs, how big are the products, how fast can they be shipped, how often do you buy them, how far would you be willing to drive or walk, does the product need to be kept cold, or warm, what’s the cost per square foot - there are all sorts of possible inputs to the equation, and if you visualised them all you’d have a many-dimensional scatter diagram, that would tell you why Ikea has giant stores on the edge of town, why Walgreens has small local stores, and why you can buy milk on every block in Manhattan but not a fridge. 

The internet adds a new set of possibilities to that algebra. Amazon sells anything that can be stored on a shelf in a vast warehouse and shipped in a cardboard box. It doesn’t so much have ‘infinite shelf-space’ as (Read more...)