Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Recommend Thinking Before Buying: Response to Class Discussion

Following our group presentation on January 21st lots of class discussion was generated. I believe it was Felicia who touched on the topic of ‘Chapter’s Recommends’. As I don’t do a good deal of shopping on and tend to buy my books in store, I figured I would build on this using Amazon and HMV’s online websites.

I once bought a Frank Miller graphic novel on Amazon (300, it still has my purchase history after all), so now every time I visit the site it has recommendations for me to purchase other Frank Miller titles as well as other comics in and around the same genre. I find this gimmick both amazing and annoying.

On one hand, for people that are time starved it is great. With a lot less effort you’re able to find products that suit your interests. If you purchase Christmas or Birthday gifts from these sites it works to your advantage because it provides you with things that may also be in your loved ones interests. Just for kicks I purchased the box set of the television show ‘Dexter’ season one. With no surprise I was recommended to buy the books (which I already have borrowed from a friend). Also, I had a recommendation for the box set of the television show ‘Weeds’. I found this kind of strange… a person who buys a serial killer TV show is then recommended to buy a TV show about a pot dealing mom? However, I was more than creeped out by this because I’ve also seen that show several times and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Is it that Amazon is grouping these titles in the same category and recommending them? I don’t think so. I think the answer lies in social statistics. Amazon, Chapters, whoever must be paying a social stats company to keep tabs on interests in mass media. My only rational explanation to the results I got from my Dexter purchase was that social stats most likely reveal fans of Dexter are in an age cohort somewhere between 16 and 30. This age cohort also tends to encompass a wide variety of people who smoke pot, or possess a sense of humour that would suit those watching Weeds as well as Dexter. When you think about it, these conglomerates have really done their homework on who’s buying what.

The massive downside to this type of shopping and recommending is when you get ‘shopaholics’ who want it all. My Dexter purchase came to roughly 35 dollars after shipping. But say my friend didn’t lend me the novels and I also wasn’t able to borrow Weeds. My inner consumerist kicks in and I hear a little voice on my right shoulder whispering, ‘you have a visa for a reason… impulse!’ I added the other recommended items to my cart, 3 books and 2 other fairly inexpensive boxed sets. Now my total is 121.09 (before shipping), roughly 4 times the amount I originally intended to spend. And it doesn’t end here. Now because I’ve added the other items I’m recommended Entourage season boxed sets, Kevin Smith books, a 250 dollar boxed set of the TV drama Six Feet Under, a couple of horror and comedy films, and the Riches season 1 boxed set. You set out to spend 35 bucks and here you could be about 1000 dollars later.

I find this whole concept interesting and convenient, however it’s awful for those that don’t know how to budget and/or act on impulse. Considering how much many the supposed social stats companies probably make off these corporations, I think they should be upping the ante when you think about how much these people are robbing consumers of their will to keep a fat wallet.

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