Amazon.come-on

It seems a little retrograde, now that the markets have recognized Amazon.com as the e-world's Wal-Mart (or Nordstrom), to talk about the way it sells books. But have you tried clicking on the little "Amazon.com" button that appears—more often than not—when you launch a search on AltaVista, Yahoo!, or another of the major search engines, inviting you to click for "books about" your search subject? Depending on your outlook, it can be either a dose of frustration or good, clean, stochastic fun.

I clicked for "books about Snidely Whiplash" (don't ask why I research subjects like that—it's my job) and got whisked over to Amazon's online catalog. It offered me three books on "whiplash injuries." I clicked for "books about Rio São Francisco" (a river in Brazil where I hope to be barbecuing piranhas by the time you read this) and got a book on "The Rio Grande in North American History" and a guide to Rio de Janeiro. This is like offering a guide to New York to someone asking about the Mississippi.

When the Amazon.com button offered "books about Veridicom," a biometric-technology firm that seemed much too new to merit a tome, I marveled—and clicked. "We were unable to find exact matches for your search," Amazon.com replied, and invited me to look for something else. C'mon, guys. You offered!

I asked Amazon.com rep Bill Curry about this marketing approach. Didn't the company worry about offending potential customers, who will feel baited and switched when they get lured to its site by a bum steer, or no steer at all? Not at all, Curry replied: The more links, the merrier. "The purpose is not to be so restrictive people won't get anything if they misspell a word." He cited his own experience as an example of why a loose filter and generous search protocol are good ideas: "I just typed in 'potty training' and got back Toilet Training in Less Than a Day. It's better to allow people to be less specific."

Certainly being free and loose with the search links will get more people clicking over to your site. But hasn't e-marketing progressed from drawing hits to building goodwill? Offering a link whether or not you have something to link to makes a marketer seem like one of those blowhards at a party who butts in on every subject and has nothing to say about any.

But what the hey. That's how they sell used cars.

 
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