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Amazon pursues rivals in the battle with the shops of "bots"

Опубликовано : 4-10-2017, 06:27 | Категория: Business news   

Amazon pursues rivals in the battle with the shops of "bots"


Earlier this year, engineers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N), tracking the prices of online competitors, received a rough surprise: the technology that they used to test Amazon.com several million times a day, suddenly stopped working.

Loss of data access Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) is an important issue. Like most large retailers, Wal-Mart relies on computer programs that scan prices on competitor sites to adjust their lists accordingly. The difference of even 50 cents could mean a loss of sales.

But Amazon's new tactics to block these programs, known as robots or bots, prevented a retailer in Bentonville, Arkansas.

His technology department @WalmartLabs could not bypass the blockade for several weeks, forcing him to retrieve Amazon data through a secondary source, according to a person familiar with the issue that was not allowed to speak publicly.

Earlier, an incident was reported that describes how Amazon's technological prowess helps it dominate the retail competition.

Now the largest online store in the world, Amazon is the most famous consumer for fast delivery, a huge product catalog and ambitious steps in areas such as original television programming. But his skill in complex, behind-the-scenes technologies that educate modern e-commerce is just as important to her success.

Dexterity with bots allows Amazon not only to see what its rivals do, but also to keep them in the dark when it undermines them at a price or quietly charges more.

"Benchmarking against Amazon will be difficult," said Guru Hariharan, a former Amazon manager who now sells retail software as the head of the executive of Mountain View, based in the California-based Boomerang Commerce company.

The Wal-Mart spokesman declined to discuss the January episode, but said the company regularly improves its technology and has several tools for tracking the goods. He said that the company offers value not only through pricing, but also from discounts on delivery in the store and other benefits.
A spokeswoman for Amazon said that the company knows competitors using bots to test their lists, and denies any "campaign" to stop them. "Recently nothing has changed in how we manage bots on our site," she said. However, she said: "We give priority to people over bots as needed."

Bots can slow down the website, which is a great incentive for retailers to block them.

Reuters interviewed 21 people familiar with the bots and how they were deployed, including current and former employees of Wal-Mart, former Amazon employees and external experts. Many spoke only on condition of anonymity, as they were not allowed to publicly discuss these issues.

Most pointed out that Amazon's leadership in battles on boats is growing. [For a graphic image, press tmsnrt.rs/2qXbYfT]

The company's technological advantages were good for its profit, and it turned out to be a winning formula for investors. In March 2009, shares of the Internet power plant grew by about 15 times, and the S & P 500 index more than tripled. According to him, Amazon has reached an annual sales volume of $ 100 billion in 2015 - faster than any other company in history.


The bots-based price is a major change for retailers, as Amazon helped take this practice over a decade ago.

Traditionally, brick and mortar stores have changed prices no more often than weekly, due to the time and costs required for manual exchange of labels.

In the electronic trading world, retailers easily update prices, sometimes several times a day, thanks to algorithms that take stock levels, sales forecasts and price data from competitors into account.

To stay in the game, companies such as the box boxer based online boxer based in New York depend on a variety of methods, including bots, so that they keep up with other price moves even for 20 minutes.

"It's like a lifetime for Christmas," said CEO Chi Huang, whose company sells staple foods such as toilet paper and animal feed. "If we are not appreciated highly, we will see this almost immediately" in the decline in sales.


Using bots to view a huge amount of data on public websites - a process known as scanning or cleaning - has many purposes. For example, Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) Google constantly browses the Internet to collect information about the results of its search engine and sell advertising.
However, in e-commerce, the use of bots turned into a game with a cat and mouse. Companies are trying to disrupt the practice on their websites, seeking to infiltrate their competitors' defense. Third-party services abound to help less intelligent retailers. [For the diagram, press tmsnrt.rs/2qX4DwB]

To protect data from competitors, some retail websites use so-called "captcha" - usually a distorted sequence of letters and numbers that people can read, but most bots can not do it. Amazon shies away from practice, because it irritates some customers.

For sellers seeking to evade such protection, the key is to disguise their computer programs as real buyers. Some price experts have programmed computer cursors to apologize via a web page in a way that a person can do, rather than directly access valuable data. Another way is to use multiple computer addresses so that retailers can not track clusters in one source.

"This is an arms race," said Keith Anderson, senior vice president of the Profitero e-commerce research firm based in Ireland. "Every week or every month there is a new approach on both sides."
The Amazon maneuver, which stopped Wal-Mart in January, aimed at a dedicated web browser called PhantomJS. Unlike, for example, Internet Explorer, this browser is designed specifically for programmers, which is a clear indication that its users are not typical buyers. According to three people familiar with the situation, Amazon exhibited a digital curtain to hide their records from users of PhantomJS.

It is unclear how this move, which was not aimed at Wal-Mart, in particular, affected other companies.

The tests conducted in recent weeks for Reuters show that among the main US retail chains Amazon certainly had the most difficult detection of bots, both for its home page and for the two popular products chosen by Reuters because they often change the price - De'Longhi Coffee makers and webcam Logitech.

The tests were conducted by Distil Networks in San Francisco, where anti-robot instruments are sold. In one of the tests, Distil programmed bots to hit the site of each seller 3000 times, but slow enough to mimic a person by clicking on lists. This deceived most of the retail giants, but not Amazon.

For example, blocked bots would not see that the Amazon price for the De'Longhi coffee machine changed four times in one 24-hour period beginning on the morning of April 25, according to the camelcamelcamel.com website with price tracking. During this time, the price rose by more than 10 percent, from a low of 80.06 to 88.16 dollars.


Despite Amazon's capabilities, the huge amount of scanning on its website is staggering. Sometimes 80 percent of clicks on Amazon product lists are owned by bots, and people familiar with this issue say that compared to third or more traffic on other large sites.

In addition to competitors looking for price data, this traffic includes bots from university researchers studying competition, search engines, advertising services and even scammers trying to break into Amazon accounts.

For Wal-Mart, a small group in Silicon Valley is channeling its automatic pricing strategy, and dozens of engineers from India and around the world are processing this code, current and former Wal-Mart employees say.

In Amazon there were about 40 engineers who secretly extracted and systematized the data of competitors with the help of bots several years ago, one of the respondents said. Amazon did not discuss the size and structure of its teams working with bots.

According to one US patent application, Amazon is working on an encryption technology that will force bots, but not people, to solve a complex algorithm to access their web pages. [For full patent registration - press tmsnrt.rs/2qXbYwp]

"Amazon has the competence to identify bot traffic and the means to solve it," said Scott Jacobson, former manager of Amazon, and now Managing Director of Madrona Venture Group. This does not apply to most retailers.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dustin in San Francisco, Additional reporting by Nandit Bose in Chicago, editing by Jonathan Weber and Marla Dickerson)

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