Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Amazon seller lists book at $23,698,655.93 -- *plus* shipping

This just in from CNN -- an amazon seller listed a book, "The Making of a Fly," for $23,698,655.93 -- plus shipping! (As a friend of mine said, "I don't know about you, but I would have offered free shipping).

The lofty price seems to be the result of a "robot price war," where two sellers both used auto-pricing tools to adjust the book's price. 

As the CNN piece explains: "[Michael] Eisen [the amazon shopper who discovered the anomaly] watched the robot price war from April 8 to 18 and calculated that two booksellers were automatically adjusting their prices against each other.  One equation kept setting the price of the first book at 1.27059 times the price of the second book, according to Eisen's analysis, which is posted in detail on his blog.

"The other equation automatically set its price at 0.9983 times the price of the other book. So the prices of the two books escalated in tandem into the millions, with the second book always selling for slightly less than the first. (Not that that matters much when you're selling a book about flies for millions of dollars).

"The incident highlights a little-known fact about e-commerce sites such as Amazon: Often, people don't create and update prices; computer algorithms do.  Individual booksellers on Amazon and other sites pay third-party companies for algorithm services that automatically update prices. Some of these computer programs purportedly work very well, getting sellers up to 60% more sales because they underbid the competition automatically and repeatedly. The advantages are clear: If you're managing dozens of sale items on Amazon or eBay, it's difficult if not impossible to keep up with all of them.

"If you have more than 100 items, then it's impossible for you to manually focus on the price," said Victor Rosenman, CEO of a company called Feedvisor, which sells algorithm services to people who use Amazon."

Now that a human being noticed the anomaly, the price is now a more earthly $106.23.

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