Monday 9 December 2019

Amazon India halts ‘search-seeding’

Amazon is halting the use of an important tool called “search-seeding” that helped decide which products appear first in searches on its India marketplace.

Two sources aware of the development said “search-seeding”, as it is called by Amazon executives, has over the past few months been disabled on Amazon India.

Search-seeding boosted the chances of products appearing on the coveted first page of results, once a consumer looked for a certain product. Amazon India, on its part, has said, “it does not provide any tool to sellers that can manipulate the ranking of shopping results”.

The step comes at a time when e-tailers in India, and across the world, are facing rigorous regulatory scrutiny over various practices, particularly over having lopsided contracts favouring some merchants.

A merchant, who sells independently on the marketplace and also supplies to Amazon-backed seller firms, said he has used seeding to improve search results. “We were provided with search word-based analytics on the platform about twice a month, which helps sellers using those keywords to appear on top results,” the merchant said.

He was, however, informed last month by an Amazon executive that search-seeding has been disabled since it was being abused by various merchants. Appearing on the first couple of pages is critical as consumers often don’t search for multiple pages. “Without it, my products hardly appeared on the top results and one has to opt for other tools like sponsored advertisements,” he added.

This had a direct impact on sales. Amazon has over 5,00,000 sellers in India, which explains why it’s important for sellers that consumers see their product first. Various factors go into determining top results, like reviews, ranking, price and relevance.

“Search-seeding helps you appear on the first couple of pages once someone is looking for a certain product. Keywords used to list that particular product, based on the segment, are a critical part of search-seeding. That listing would get pushed up in the marketplace by design,” the merchant quoted earlier said.

Additionally, Amazon is planning to bring Vine for new private brand programme Accelerator products exclusively in India. Vine is a curated network of top reviewers, who based on their choice, can review a product before its released on the marketplace. Amazon has told a merchant that it plans to have Vine exclusively for Accelerator next year. A higher number of positive reviews improves the visibility of products.

Last month, TOI reported that Amazon is starting to scale up Accelerator, which helps create stealth private label for small manufactures along with supplying for its private labels like Symbol. According to the contract for Accelerator, reviewed by TOI, the e-tailer had mentioned it will provide data on what products, combinations (colour, size etc), are being searched the most on its platform and manufacturers can tap into that. Accelerator is also planning to enter hardline products like consumer electronics.

Amazon does not disclose its search algorithm on the marketplace. “We design our shopping and discovery experience to feature the items customers will want to purchase from sellers selling on our marketplace,” a spokesperson of Amazon said on search-seeding. On queries for Accelerator, the company said, “Amazon Accelerator creates new opportunities for manufacturers – including those who already offer products in our store and those who do not – to launch new brands and products and offer them directly to Amazon customers. For customers, this program adds products to our assortment and allows us to offer an even wider selection of high-quality products at a great value.”

In the US, the company was recently accused by popular shoe brand All Birds of mimicking its designs. In India, it is aggressively pushing its private labels like Solimo, Presto and others. The government is tracking it after it imposed tighter regulations on foreign e-tailers like Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart. Last week, India’s competition commission president Ashok Gupta, in a public speech, had mentioned the issues of ‘lopsided contract terms between platforms and businesses.’ In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon had changed its algorithm in a way that boost sales of its own products.

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