Amazon’s Just Taunting Me – When Retargeting Goes Wrong

I’m generally pretty happy to be marketed to, especially when it’s well-personalized. But when retargeting is done wrong, it can go really wrong. And Amazon, with me, has gone really, really wrong. To the extent that this e-commerce scion isn’t just wasting its money, it’s actively ticking me off.

I’m generally pretty happy to be marketed to, especially when it’s personalized. Facebook ads, retargeting me across the Internet, direct mail … All of those things were on display in my Christmas post.

But when retargeting is done wrong, it can go really wrong. And Amazon, with me, has gone really, really wrong. To the extent that this e-commerce scion isn’t just wasting its money, it’s actively ticking me off.

Amazon Retargeting
And God help you if you click on one of those ads to see if the size selection changed …

Clothes are hard for me to find. I’m very tall and very big, and going to anything but big-and-tall stores is pretty much a waste of time (big-and-tall stores are basically the place to pay Brooks Brothers prices for K-mart quality and fashion sense, but that’s for another post).

So I do a lot of clothes shopping online with search terms like “3xlt” and “56 long.”

The problem is, search technology is baffled by this arcane language! Look up “men’s trenchcoat 3xlt” and you’ll see this:

Google Search for Men's TrenchcoatNone of those links takes you to trenchcoats in xxx-large tall. It doesn’t matter if I spell it “trenchcoat” or “trench coat.” It doesn’t matter if I use “3xlt” or “xxxl tall” or “long” or “XXX Tall Coat.” (Admittedly, the last one works a little better, but not by much.)

It’s hard to zero in on clothes in specific, uncommon sizes. So I wind up clicking on a lot of links that lead to clothes that do not come in my size.

And then, I start seeing ads for things like this:

Asian Large Trench Coat
I’m sure it’s huge in Japan.

That’s actually a nice-looking coat! I’d love to get that … Except once I click around, I see they only make it in Asian sizes that sound about as big as one of my socks.

I can get over that. That’s been my life since I was 10 and grew out of “huskies.”

But then these ads, in the immortal words of Denny Hatch, Start. Chasing. Me. All. Over. The. Internet.

Seriously, I’m seeing Amazon ads for trench coats in essentially children’s sizes on Facebook, Yahoo, every article I visit, and even occasionally in our own Today @ Target Marketing newsletter (which sometimes serves network ads via LiveIntent).

Some of the dangers of retargeting are well documented. Yes, it’s annoying to see ads, sometimes even sales, for things you just bought and products you could’ve bought instead. It’s annoying to see ads for things you shouldn’t buy but tempt you, even after your willpower won the battle against temptation once.

It’s another thing altogether to see hundreds of ad impressions for a piece of apparel that is actively making you angry because they don’t make it for you.

That’s when the customer experience goes from “OK, this can be useful, but today it’s annoying” to making me go full Picard.

Amazon PicardTargeting algorithms aren’t going anywhere. I’ve personally been enticed to spend way more thanks to them — when they’re not actively taunting me.

But the deeper we get into this uncanny valley, the more we see instances where your AI sales assistant acts dumber than your pimple-faced summer stock boy. And I wonder if that will ever change.

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

4 thoughts on “Amazon’s Just Taunting Me – When Retargeting Goes Wrong”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I am now seeing tons of ads for all of the gifts that I purchased over Christmas for family members. Our nephew plays the drums and I see him about once a year. We gave him drumsticks ordered on Amazon. No one in my household plays the drums, We don’t even own bongos. And yet, I have received tons of online ads for drumsticks and other paraphernalia. Please make it stop.

    1. The engines behind this kind of targeting really need a layer of personal interest data they’re not getting. I would gladly tell Amazon in my profile to only market clothes to me in my sizes if they let me. They don’t. Instead I need to remove everything I looked at that was out of size for me from my browsing history (which I’m not going to do).

      With your drum purchase, they need a way to capture whether that is your interest or a gift for someone else.

      Both of those data pieces completely changes the appropriate follow up, and the algorithms are ignoring them.

      1. I couldn’t agree more, Thorin. Right after I commented, I was in a business journal article and had a pop-up ad for customized M&Ms, something I was searching for when I was organizing a special event. No need for them now, nor any interest, but I suspect I will continue to get that ad for weeks to come.

  2. It should be noted that, on Amazon at least, you can go into your Account Settings and click on “View and Manage Your Browsing History”, which pulls up a list of things you’ve viewed and lets you delete them. I use it all the time for deleting things that I bought as presents but aren’t interested in personally, and it seems to do a pretty good job of stopping the ad remarketing for those products, at least on Amazon and possibly other places as well.

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