Spon­sored ads en­croach on Ama­zon searches

Man­u­fac­tur­ers pay for prime place­ment

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Jef­fer­son Gra­ham

Do a search for lap­tops on Ama­zon, and the first re­sult might be ones made by Mi­crosoft or HP, de­spite Asus be­ing Ama­zon’s best seller.

Try for print­ers, and while HP and Brother top the Ama­zon best seller chart, the first three (spon­sored) re­sults are for a Bluedriver scan­ner and re­place­ment bat­ter­ies for print­ers made by Ze­bra.

Search­ing TVs take you di­rectly to LG and San­sui, a com­pany prob­a­bly most Amer­i­can con­sumers have never heard of, de­spite Ama­zon’s best-seller cat­e­gory be­ing dom­i­nated by Chi­nese brand TCL.

These are spon­sored posts, paid by the man­u­fac­turer to get bet­ter place­ment on the top e-com­merce site, and if you think you’re see­ing a lot more of these this year, your eyes are not play­ing tricks on you. There are more ads than ever on top of the prod­ucts you are search­ing for, which are ranked based on sales per­for­mance and other fac­tors.

Kat Eller Mur­ray, a Los An­ge­les mom with a 14-month-old, shops on Ama­zon all the time for the baby and tries to tune out the spon­sored ads. “There are more of them than ever, and I won’t even look at them be­cause I know they’re spon­sored,” she says. “Very rarely are they what I want.”

Ac­cord­ing to re­search firm eMar­keter, Ama­zon will bring in $4.6 bil­lion worth of rev­enue for spon­sored ads this year, up from $1.8 bil­lion in 2017. The com­pany is on track to grow these ads to $10.9 bil­lion by 2020. As Ama­zon en­ters its busiest sea­son, the hol­i­days, shop­pers will be con­fronted in their searches by prod­ucts, not the best re­viewed or best-sell­ing op­tions, but the ones that man­u­fac­tur­ers paid for to be the first thing con­sumers see at the top of the list.

Ama­zon is “lit­tered with Spon­sored Ads now,” be­moaned Faisel Ma­sud on

“Ama­zon is ben­e­fit­ing from

the fact that, on Google

and Face­book, con­sumers

may be re­search­ing a

prod­uct, but on Ama­zon

they have the ben­e­fit of

be­ing at the pur­chase

de­ci­sion.” Mon­ica Peart, an an­a­lyst with eMar­keter

Twit­ter re­cently. He’s the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Wing, a Google com­pany look­ing to bring au­tonomous de­liv­ery drone ser­vice to the pub­lic. Writ­ing as a con­sumer, his post was ac­com­pa­nied with a photo of a 3-star ranked (out of 5 stars) Nerf toy that showed up at the top of his search re­sults.

“Cus­tomers need a fil­ter to re­move poorly rated items from search re­sults. There has to be a more cus­tomer-cen­tric ap­proach here to fix this.”

Ama­zon has many ways to fil­ter re­sults, show­ing you just prod­ucts that qual­ity for Prime ship­ping (as part of the $119 yearly ex­pe­dited ship­ping and en­ter­tain­ment mem­ber­ship) only ones that have 5 star re­views and more. But cut­ting out the ads isn’t one of your choices.

The prob­lem for con­sumers is that man­u­fac­tur­ers love the ac­cess to Ama­zon’s front page.

And as the e-com­merce giant, pro­jected to have a 49 per­cent mar­ket share of on­line trans­ac­tions by the end of the year, gets big­ger, spon­sored posts will likely only get more preva­lent.

“Ama­zon is ben­e­fit­ing from the fact that, on Google and Face­book, con­sumers may be re­search­ing a prod­uct, but on Ama­zon they have the ben­e­fit of be­ing at the pur­chase de­ci­sion,” says Mon­ica Peart, an an­a­lyst with eMar­keter.

Ja­son Gold­berg, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of com­merce for dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing firm Sapi­en­tRa­zor­fish, says man­u­fac­tur­ers have lit­tle choice – they have to run spon­sored ads on Ama­zon, due to the size and breadth of the com­pany’s cus­tomer base.

“No one will find you if you don’t pay,” he says.

For con­sumers, it’s buyer be­ware, he adds.

Know that the top re­sults are ads, just as on Google and of­ten all over Face­book’s News Feed, and try to tune them out.

“You won’t find the most pop­u­lar prod­ucts or the best re­viewed ones there.”

How­ever, once you’ve iden­ti­fied the prod­uct you are in­ter­ested in, when you click to get more in­for­ma­tion about it, the ads won’t fol­low you there, he says.

USA TO­DAY reached out to Ama­zon, but the com­pany de­clined to com­ment.

Matt Mick­iewicz, the co-founder of Hired.com, vented on Twit­ter that shop­ping had be­come a tougher ex­pe­ri­ence for him on Ama­zon.

“Be­tween all the spon­sored ads, and iden­ti­cal prod­ucts be­ing sold un­der 10 dif­fer­ent brand names, it’s be­come a frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

For all the frus­tra­tion, it’s not like con­sumers can re­ally shop else­where on­line to rid them­selves of spon­sored posts.

In eMar­keter’s sur­vey of the top 5 U.S. e-com­merce sites, three do spon­sored posts, with Ap­ple and Home De­pot the two ex­cep­tions.

Ama­zon leads with a 49 per­cent mar­ket share, fol­lowed by eBay (6.9 per­cent), Ap­ple (3.9%), Wal­mart (3.7 per­cent) and Home De­pot (1.7 per­cent.)

Sure, Home De­pot might not have spon­sored ads, but good luck buy­ing a lap­top, new cam­era or chem­istry set from there, though.

PATRICK SE­MAN­SKY/AP

Ama­zon boxes ride a con­veyor belt at the UPS World­port hub in Louisville, Ken­tucky.

AMA­ZON.COM

Spon­sored ads pop up on com­put­ers and smart­phone apps.

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