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Amazon.com Puts Bulging Database to Work for Shoppers

By Mary Hillebrand
Aug 20, 1999 12:00 AM PT

Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) announced Friday that it is introducing a new feature which will enable shoppers' preferences to steer other online gift-buyers to a book, music or video selection.

Amazon.com Puts Bulging Database to Work for Shoppers

Anonymous lists based on domain names and other geographic information divide purchases into various categories, showing the most popular items within a particular institution. A computer program determines which titles are more popular with each specific group than with the population at large.

For example, students at the California Institute of Technology -- which recently ranked as the top higher education institution in the country by "U.S. News & World Report" -- most frequently purchase "Casablanca" on video. Their counterparts at Harvard - which ranked second -- get swept away by "Gone with the Wind" when they are not working out with the "Tae-Bo Workout: Instructional and Basic" video.

Amazon.com says that it has thousands of "Purchase Circles" already set up, and is open to suggestions from shoppers. Customers can also create their own "favorites" lists of the "Purchase Circles" they look at most frequently, and the lists will appear on the Amazon.com site each time the customer loads it. A monthly e-mail service will also keep them up to date on new additions to their lists. However, the categorized best-seller lists have not supplanted Amazon.com's own best-seller pages, and the industry standard New York Times best-seller lists are also still on the site.

"We've wanted to build these kinds of community features for some time, but only now does Amazon.com's customer base of 10.7 million customers provide the volume of information to make something like 'Purchase Circles' possible," Director Of Product Development Warren Adams said.

Research Revolution?

The "Purchase Circles" could become a useful resource for authors, musicians and video producers to track the popularity of their works among different groups. While publishers of those products have already made such tracking a science, the online bookseller suggests its method could be a unique new look at those sales. In addition, Amazon feels that the lists could be a "fun" way for shoppers to "gain insight into diverse and competitive Purchase Circle member groups."

According to the new "Purchase Circles" listing, the most-read book by New Yorkers is Kurt Anderson's novel "Turn of the Century." Across the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey, however, the top title is "Hannibal," Thomas Harris' sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs." Anderson's book has not yet made the list in Hoboken, while "Hannibal" ranks fifth in New York.

Amazon Files Suit Against Alleged Cybersquatter

In related news, earlier this week, Amazon.com filed an 11-count lawsuit in a Delaware federal court against a couple it accuses of extortion, mail fraud, wire fraud and criminal copyright violations.

Greg Lloyd Smith and his Greek wife, Aiketerini Theorachi, established domains at "amazon.gr" and "amazon.com.gr," pasted portions of Amazon's site on to their own and claimed to be Greece's largest bookstore.

The suit -- which alleges violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act -- also names CITI Services, a Delaware corporation, and CITI Services Limited, an English corporation. According to Amazon, both are owned by Smith.

Amazon said they were contacted by Smith on May 3 and offered a chance to buy a controlling interest in CITI Services for $1.63 million (US$), an offer that Amazon calls a "thinly veiled shakedown."

Amazon spokesman Bill Curry feels that this lawsuit provides other potential Amazon.com copycats with ample warning: "You can run, but you can't hide."

The company previously filed suit against the couple in a Greek court. A hearing is scheduled for next month in Greece, where Amazon said the Web sites are located.


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How do you feel about Black Friday/Cyber Monday this year?
I'm excited to find great deals and plan to do some serious shopping on BFCM.
I'll watch for BFCM sales, but I intend to drastically curb my spending this year.
BFCM has become a season -- I no longer feel driven to look for bargains on those specific days.
I plan to have most of my holiday shopping done *before* BFCM.
I detest the holiday sales hype and will avoid shopping on BFCM.
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