Amazon wants you to buy what?

I’ve come up with what I guarantee will become the the most popular time suck since Buzzfeed started posting “Which Frozen Character are You” type quizzes.

For real.

My idea? Challenge a group of friends to a contest to see who gets the most insane recommendations from Amazon regarding stuff you might want to buy because you bought other stuff. I call the game “What Crazy Stuff is Amazon Trying to Sell You?”

You know what I’m talking about, right? “You just bought a lawn mower; you might also want to buy a weed wacker, a waffle iron and ….. another lawn mower!”

The truth is Amazon’s strategy is a good idea as far as it goes: Track what a shopper buys, compare that to what other shoppers who bought that item also bought, and then send the targeted shopper a list of arguably complementary items that he or she also might purchase from you. But Amazon’s execution is a demonstration of just how hard it is to nail what marketers call “personalization.”

When done right, personalization knows who you are; not what demographic group or what cohort of shoppers you belong to. (You’re a person, not a persona, is how we think of it.) Real personalization requires understanding a shopper’s intent, by analyzing behavior anonymously and across devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

It’s only by deeply understanding an individual — that she likes lace dresses and sale items and the color red — that retailers can build a relationship and create the kind of shopping experience that will keep consumers on their sites, inspire them to buy and encourage them to come back.

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And why would any retailer treat a customer who visits their site on a mobile phone, a tablet and a laptop as three different people? It’s at least frustrating and maybe insulting. Why should a shopper, who starts looking for the perfect crimson dress on her mobile phone, have to start all over again when she sits down at her laptop? How many successful businesses do you know that treat their return customers like complete strangers.

Of course, it’s as important to have a deep understanding of a retailer’s inventory, too, all while matching what a consumer wants with the relevant products a merchant has to offer. That crimson dress, for instance: Maybe our shopper would also like to see scarlet dresses and rose dresses.

Our own office version of “What Crazy Stuff is Amazon Trying to Sell You?” started when a marketing guy sent out the recommendations he received after buying a smoke detector. How about a carbon monoxide detector, Amazon asked? Or a soccer video, or a battery charger, or a different soccer video, or a fire extinguisher or maybe a different fire extinguisher and, of course, a Jolly Jumper Musical Play Mat.

All right, maybe not insane. It would be a shame to be alerted to a fire by the smoke detector only to be done in later by undetected carbon monoxide. And, a fire extinguisher would come in handy once smoke had been detected — because where there is smoke, well, you know.

And the play mat, I guess, would give you something to do while you waited for the fire department.

No matter. That wasn’t the winning entry. The winning entry came from one of our marketing technologists. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)

First, to be fair, I should say, that Amazon’s recommendations appear to be helping sales, according to CNN Money.  But while writer JP Mangalindan points out a year-to-year sales bump, he also talks to those who see some limitations in Amazon’s methods:

“Still, although Amazon recommendations are cited by many company observers as a killer feature, analysts believe there’s a lot of room for growth. ‘There’s a collective belief within the e-commerce industry that Amazon’s recommendation engine is a suboptimal solution,’ says (Forrester analyst Sucharita) Mulpuru. Trisha Dill, a Well’s Fargo analyst, says it’s hard to fault Amazon for their recommendations, but she also says the company has a lot of work to do in offering users items more relevant to them. As an example, she points to a targeted email she received pushing a chainsaw carrying case. (She doesn’t own a chainsaw.)”

No doubt Amazon is working on honing its techniques and it offers a DIY solution while you wait for more relevant solutions to come from Amazon itself.

You know that Amazon isn’t sitting still. And neither is any other retailer that expects to survive in a hyper-competitive market.

A recent Forrester report emphasized the need for retailers to step up their personalization efforts by delivering search results that are more specifically tailored to individual shoppers. The report, which resides behind the company’s pay wall, emphasized the need to factor in in-the-moment behavior and to pay attention to consumer behavior on all the various devices an individual shopper might use.

Now, for that winning entry in my inaugural game of “What Crazy Stuff is Amazon Trying to Sell You?”

One of our male marketing technologists sent this list over, after having purchased from Amazon a chef’s hat to wear at a party:

Baby Infant Lobster Costume

Chef’s Hat (Because who wouldn’t want two new chef’s hats?)

Dickie’s Chef Pant (if you get two, they’re pants)

Women’s Underwire Side Support Bra (OK)

Simply put: I think we have a winner. Unless, of course, your recommendation list is even better. Let us know in the comment section below.

(Cropped lawn mower photo by Dave Sizer and image of woman Web surfing by Mike Licht both published under Creative Commons license. )

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com and follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy