What Does “Amazon’s Choice” Actually Mean?

You might guess that it means some perfect combination of low price, great quality, and best value, but you might be wrong.

What is Amazon’s Choice?

Search for a product on Amazon, say a wireless speaker—or one of these other Amazon products you use every day—and you’re likely to find in the mix of your search results a few items that have an “Amazon’s Choice” badge. What does that mean exactly? According to Business Insider, it usually means that it has a high customer rating, ships via Prime, and has a low return rate and a competitive price.

The controversy

Sounds fair enough, but according to BuzzFeed News, it’s not necessarily a label that consumers should seek out. Amazon’s Choice, according to Buzzfeed, “is a label automatically awarded to listings by an algorithm based on customer reviews, price, and whether the product is in stock. And those choices Amazon’s software makes aren’t always reliable—in fact, sometimes they’re Amazon-recommended crap,” writes BuzzFeed News Reporter Nicole Nguyen.

In an investigative report looking at a wide variety of items in various categories, BuzzFeed concluded that the “Amazon’s Choice” designation can easily be awarded to inferior products with “manipulated reviews.”

An Amazon spokesperson told BuzzFeed News: “‘Amazon’s Choice’ is just our recommendation, and customers can always ask for specific brands or products if they choose.” (A request for answers to questions sent by Reader’s Digest went unanswered at press time.)

This isn’t a scam exactly (here are some online frauds you should definitely be aware of) but it is a cause of concern.

Call for transparency

Following the BuzzFeed report, Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking for transparency into the process. “We are concerned the badge is assigned in an arbitrary manner, or worse, based on fraudulent product reviews,” they wrote. According to The Motley Fool, the senators gave a September 16 deadline for a response and suggested that “unsatisfactory answers could necessitate regulatory review and/or possible legislative action.”

What’s at stake?

In a word: money. On both sides of the “Amazon’s Choice” designation—the consumers and the companies—there are a lot of dollars at stake. According to a report by OC&C Strategy Consultants, “Products that attain ‘Amazon’s Choice’ status typically realize a sales boost of more than 3X. Losing ‘Amazon’s Choice’ status typically leads to a 30 percent reduction in sales.” The same report says that 85 percent of consumers purchase products that Amazon suggests. And spending hard-earned money on inferior or mispresented products is a recipe for 100 percent customer outrage.

There is a silver lining, writes Rich Smith for The Motley Fool: “Whatever changes Amazon ultimately makes to address the senators questions and any added transparency it provides should only increase customer confidence in Amazon.com—and work to the benefit of Amazon shoppers and investors alike.”

Here are some of Amazon’s near-perfect rated products—which may or may not make the grade as “Amazon’s Choice.”

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Joe McKinley
Joe McKinley is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering cars, careers, tech and more.