Items Hidden In Amazon Searches

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the The DMM Mystery Megadeal, a new daily feature I’m rolling out today. Each day I will provide a DMM Mystery Megadeal link to an electronics, computer or digital media item that’s been marked down 60% or more from its original price, has a minimum average review rating of 4/5 stars, AND is eligible for Amazon Prime shipping. Advertisers make it possible for Digital Media Mom to bring you great content each day for free, so thanks for your support.

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If you’ve ever searched for something on Amazon that you know, you JUST KNOW is on sale at a discount, but couldn’t find it, don’t worry. You’re not crazy and you’re not losing your memory. The item probably was there, and at the price you thought it was. It just didn’t turn up in your search results.


Case In Point: Brave New World

Every day Amazon has a small set of “Kindle Daily Deals”, where several books in various genres are offered at a deeply discounted price, usually $1.99 each. Yesterday, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and his Brave New World Revisited were among the Daily Deal books, and they were priced at $1.99 each:



Because it’s part of my job to know when and what digital media is on sale at Amazon, I saw the Daily Deal screen above pretty early in my day, made a mental note to pick up Brave New World the next time I took a break, and got on with my day. Later, in the afternoon, I happened to be using my Kindle Fire and figured I’d look up that book I wanted. The only problem was, I couldn’t find it at the Deal price. Instead, my search turned up more expensive editions of the same book.

I thought maybe it was just an issue with searching from my Fire and went back to my computer. When I entered the search term “Brave New World”, here’s what I got: again, higher priced editions were shown right at the top of the search results, but not the Kindle Daily Deal editions of the same book (click on the image to view an enlarged version in a new tab or window).



The five pages of results included works by Vonnegut, Orwell and Steinbeck, as well as a Josh Groban MP3 album, but the Kindle Daily Deal editions of Brave New World were nowhere to be found in the search results at all. Since I have such a long history of playing detective to snoop out deals on Amazon, I knew from experience this had to be some kind of a problem in Amazon’s search formula. I also know from experience that changing the sort can make previously invisible items magically appear, so I dropped down the Sort By list and selected “by price: low to high”. On the second page of results, there were the sale-priced editions at last.


It’s Not That Amazon’s TRYING To Rip You Off

I know that might seem like the logical conclusion here. But if you look closely at the search results screen above, you’ll see that the default sort order is “relevance”. Amazon does not reveal its specific search processes, or “algorithms”, but based on my experiences with Amazon to date and my past experience as a Database Administrator, my guess is that this default search goes by keywords first (the book title in this case), then looks at listing or release date as the second criteria (because searchers on a shopping site are most likely interested in the latest version of a given thing), and popularity as the third most important factor (e.g., how many people are looking at the product page for item X versus item Y).

In this case, the higher-priced editions of the Aldous Huxley books have a release date that’s actually in the future as of this writing: July 22, 2014. These new editions are only available for pre-order right now, but the search database isn’t “smart” enough to “know” people looking for a given item will probably place a higher value on current availability than release date.

Side note: interestingly, pricing has flip-flopped between the editions that were $1.99 yesterday and the newer, pre-order editions that were priced a lot higher yesterday: the pre-order editions are both $1.99 today, and the ones I got for $1.99 yesterday are priced where the pre-order editions were yesterday. Go figure.

With books, as with electronic gadgets that get new version releases every year or two, you may know the specific version you want, but Amazon’s search database doesn’t. It has to go by rules and assumptions, because otherwise it would take a very long time for it to locate one specific item among Amazon’s millions of products on offer.


The Solution: Use The Sort By Option, Product ID, or Other Specifics

The easiest way to find anything on Amazon is to search by ASIN: Amazon’s own, unique ID number for each product on its site. But you don’t usually have that when you’re setting out to find something.

Second best is the specific model number the manufacturer assigned to the product (e.g., 369946-1300 is the product model number for the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III). But you may not have that either.

Third best is the actual, specific, exact name of the item. But as this post has demonstrated, that doesn’t always find what you’re looking for.

When all else fails, try changing the sort. When you change the sort Amazon send a whole new search, or “query”, to its product database, using your original search keyword or phrase PLUS whatever your sort factor was. The result list of this new search often includes items you didn’t find in the first result set.


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And now…

Click here for today’s DMM Mystery Megadeal.


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