Amazon Customer Vote: 3,000 served, 1.3 million played

Online Shopping has plenty of perks: instantaneous price comparisons, customer reviews on everything from HDTVs to milk; communities focused entirely on finding deals. Ironically one of greatest benefits of online shopping, the ability to avoid crowds, has managed to take a lot of the holiday cheer out of recent Amazon promotions.

For the last two years Amazon.com hosted a "Customer Vote" promotion allowing registered Amazon.com users to vote for enticing offers, and offered limited quantities of winning deal. Last year, a horde of deal hunters pounded a $100 Xbox 360 page until the entire site crashed. Learning from this, the 2007 Customer vote promotion was more "democratic". Instead of offering the winning deal on a first-come-first-serve basis, Amazon randomly selected winners from the pool of voters, and forced those participants to check the site on 6 consecutive days to see if they were eligible for any round of promotional deals.

And here is where crowds could have been an incredible help"¦by setting realistic expectations.

Just like the Xbox fiasco last year, Amazon Customer Vote 2007 participants had no clue what the competition looked like. Amazingly, over 1.3 Million people visited the Amazon Customer Vote promotion in November. Certainly not all of these visitors participated, but for the sake of this argument, lets say did, and that they all voted in each round. The table below shows the promotion items for all 6 rounds, and the likelihood of winning each.

Amazon Customer Vote probabilities

  • The odds of being able to pick up that $400 Laptop of HDTV were both over 1 in 3000. For context, that’s around the same likelihood of hitting 21 in a game of Blackjack"¦four times in a row.
  • Without knowing these odds, it was extremely easy for participants to drastically overestimate their likelihood of success, and inevitably set themselves up for disappointment.The Customer Vote Forum conversations suggest this was a widespread phenomenon. Being able to physically see the volume of other "voters" would have allowed these people to adjust expectations accordingly.

So what did Amazon get out of all this, besides selling a bunch of inventory below cost, and getting to write fantastic thank you letters? Incremental shopping.

While the average visitor to Amazon browsed about 14 pages per day during the promotional period, Amazon Customer Voters went through about 24, a 60% increase and far more than necessary to interact exclusively with the Customer Vote section. The chart below compares this shopping behavior from the 16th through the 30th of November. It’s interesting to note that the gap in consumed pages is actually wider on days when none of the deals were available for purchase.

Customer Vote Vs. Average PVs

Amazon does a lot of things right, and I would assume that the Customer Vote promotions are successful from a business prospective. But certain elements of this year’s promotion have the potential to make (increasingly web-savvy, and cynical) customers realize who really benefits from this type of promotion. The fact that users had to physically check the site, given Amazon’s level of sophistication, seems to a move to drive repeat usage, while providing no advantages to consumers. Couple this with the (undisclosed) odds of a participant actually capitalizing on the promotion, and the Customer Vote promotion has about as about as much value to participants as a “W1n a Fre e iPhne” email…from a retailer that can do infinitely better.

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