Amazon Extends Offer Personalization to Affiliates

After years of providing personalized offers to customers based on their previous shopping and browsing behaviors, Amazon.com is now offering similar capabilities to affiliates in its Amazon Associates program.

The affiliate program has added three new features allowing Web sites, from online businesses to blogs, to display new content and ad types from the mega-retailer. An offering called aStore lets site owners use a strip of HTML code to create a customized online store with Amazon features such as Customer Reviews, Wish Lists and the like, but does not require users to actually leave the original site until they are ready to purchase.

Amazon is also pushing its famous offer personalization algorithms out to its affiliates through a sponsored text link program its calling Omakase, a Japanese word meaning “leave it up to us.” The feature automatically displays ads based on Web users’ previous behavior on Amazon.com and on the shopping profiles of visitors from the site where they appear, according to Karen Haberkorn, senior manager of product management for Amazon Associates.

“We first look at what the Web site is about…. Second is we look at the history of the Web site and what people that visit that Web site are likely to buy. And the third is who is the person and if we recognized them at Amazon.com,” said Haberkorn. “We take all those pieces of information and serve the products [they are] most likely to be interested in.”

Finally, sites that display specific products from Amazon.com can now provide preview panes about those products through a feature called Product Previews, which includes images and current prices at Amazon.

The Omakase ad links program marks the first time Amazon has pushed its behavioral targeting to sites beyond its own domain. Anna Papadopoulos, interactive media director for Euro RSCG 4D and a ClickZ columnist, said she has expected Amazon to export its personalization scheme to its affiliate ad network for some time, and believes the action won’t lead to privacy concerns.

“This is definitely an obvious move… for Amazon and very much in line with their business model, which basically invented affiliate marketing on the Web,” said Anna Papadopoulos, interactive media director for Euro RSCG 4D and a ClickZ columnist. “Yahoo and eBay have been offering this level of service for a while now. I see this as an enhancement of their current model and a benefit to their partners.”

Papadopoulos noted that for better or worse, Amazon has largely escaped the watchful eye of privacy advocates whose attentions have affected, and sometimes afflicted, other companies engaged in behavioral targeting. “One of the reasons Amazon hasn’t been met with criticism is that the targeting is done well and consumers actually want it and benefit from it,” she said. “If their developments are handled in the same way, I don’t anticipate privacy issues arising.”

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