“Could you recommend a book? No, not that one!”

“Could you recommend a book? No, not that one!”

You shopped at your local bookstore because, well, it was local. 😉

However, that wasn’t the only reason.

I’m a former manager of a brick and mortar bookstore, and there was a lot more to it than the traditional “location, location, location”.

We didn’t really have the competition of the internet…but there were quite a few bookstores in the area. I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, and driving twenty minutes is like walking down the hall to most people. 😉 Within twenty minutes, there were probably ten bookstores (counting chains and independents).

What could we do to get people to shop with us?

Well, Amazon sums it up nicely:

  • Selection
  • Service
  • Price

It’s not that easy to increase the selection. The store is only so big, and piling more books into the store doesn’t work very well. For one thing, they won’t be displayed as well. More importantly, some books are going to sit in the store longer..and you are paying for rent every day they are there. The longer a book is in your store, the less profit you make.

Price may also be hard to affect very strongly. Lowering your price is going to lower your profit. Yes, we would compete on prices on bestsellers (for example), but that’s a segment where people actually would compare prices. Most people weren’t comparing prices on the vast majority of books. That’s one reason stores really don’t like “showrooming”, which is relatively new. “Customers” use their SmartPhones or tablets to compare prices, and may buy the book somewhere else (even ordering it online).

The place it was easiest for us to compete was on service.

Certainly, that included product knowledge.

I recommended (not required) that my employees read a book from every section in the store, and I did actually do that myself.

That helps…and one thing with which it helps is recommending a book.

I think that, traditionally, that’s something people associate with bookstores…being able  to ask for a recommendation.

It’s pretty tricky, as you can imagine. I was always amused when somebody would ask for a recommendation just based on age an gender…as though all people of the same age and gender liked the same books. 🙂

Being able to recommend books (and other items) which you would like is one of the most sought after and researched tools for internet e-tailers.

There are different approaches to that.

I heard somebody from Pandora and somebody from Netflix discussing this on the radio years ago.

At Netflix, they looked at your viewing habits versus other people’s. If what you rated highly matched what ten other people rated highly, and those ten people all rated a movie which you hadn’t indicated you had seen highly, it would make sense to recommend it to you.

Amazon does that with “people who bought this also bought…”

In that situation, you don’t care why people like it…there isn’t any analysis of that.

The Pandora approach was quite different.

Music experts would determine the “musical DNA” of a song. That might range from factors like “sad” and “happy” but also thing like “jangly guitars”.

I suspect Amazon uses a combination of these two.

Recently, I’ve noticed that Amazon’s recommendations for me appear to be getting better…that might be illusion (I’m a very small sample of one), and it’s pretty subjective…but it wouldn’t surprise me if they have made progress.

A great recommendation engine would really tend to make you stay with a company…I think most people would realize that if they went to a new company, it wouldn’t know them as well.

With e-books from the Kindle store which you read on your device, they can get can get quite a bit of information…they can tell if you finish a book, for example. Definitely, rating books is taken into account.

I think the improvement in recommendations (if it actually exists) might come from my being a happy

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

member. I think they can probably tell quite a bit from what I browse, and how far I read into a book (and how quickly).

However, they still sometimes get it quite wrong…it might even be amusingly so.

They can recommend items to me which would upset me…as a simple example, I’m a vegetarian and I don’t smoke…I don’t want them to recommend cigars or steak to me. 🙂

You can actually help them make better recommendations for you.

On any Amazon page, you will usually see at the top a link for Your Account, and within that for Your Recommendations.

At the top of that screen, you’ll see a choice for

Improve Your Recommendations

Note: Amazon always careful to say that not everything is in the same place for everybody, but this should be on this page.

On that page, you can “Edit Your Collections”

  • Items you’ve purchased
  • Videos you’ve watched
  • Items you’ve marked “I own it”
  • Items you’ve rated
  • Items you’ve marked “Not interested”
  • Items you’ve marked as gifts

Within this, you can rate the products, say it was a gift, or most importantly, “remove from recommendations”.

Not every one of those categories has the same choices…you can go to “Videos you’ve watched” and “remove this from watched videos”.

So, if you were just curious and clicked on a title that, um, might be embarrassing if someone else in the house knew about it, you could remove it from your watched videos.

I’ve had people say that they haven’t seen that big of an impact from editing their recommendations, but I think it’s worth a try.

Hope that helps!

If you have any comments  on recommendations, feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post. What was the best recommendation you got from Amazon? What was the funniest? I’m curious…

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

2 Responses to ““Could you recommend a book? No, not that one!””

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Awhile back, I started getting recommendations for books in which I had no interest whatsoever. When I checked to see the source of the recommendations, I found they were recommending based on the fact that I had ordered replacement disposable bags for my sweeper. I don’t know what sweeper bags tells them about my book interests. It has nothing to do with books. It has to do with allergies! I’ve tried sweepers with the dust bins that you dump into the trash, but my dust allergy is so severe that I get an immediate headache from the dust that raises up when I dump the bin.

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