Personalization Debuts...And Soon!

Having put our personalization algorithm through its paces as an experimental feature over the last month, we are excited to announce that the eagle has (almost) landed, and we will be launching our full-fledged personalization experience within the next few days.  But, until then you may ask yourself...

"I think she'd like some field mice."
"No, Arthur! You have to think like a human, not a great owl!"
"Oh my, you're right. Maybe some leather Coach, then?"
now you've got it buddy!"

How does it work?

Bonanza does not have the item depth possessed by Amazon and other big box stores.  We have built our brand on having a diverse, eclectic collection of "everything but the ordinary."  The good news is that it means we have millions of items you can't find anywhere else.  The bad news is that we usually only have one or two of them, so traditional item recommendation algorithms, which rely on tracking a user as they move from item to item and connecting those items together, aren't a realistic possibility for us.

So we decided to slice the problem differently:  rather than mapping items to items, we will map people to people.  What does that mean?  It means that when you take our personalization quiz, a gang of friendly forest creatures look over the results of your quiz and figure out what other Bonanza users you are most similar to.  Then, by considering what items those people have shown an interest in (by faving or otherwise), they can guide you toward the items that best match your personal tastes.

Why does that matter?

In addition to giving otherwise out-of-work forest creatures a sense of purpose, it holds the promise of helping you discover items that could take you minutes or hours to discover by traditional browsing methods.  

The Bonanza of today is in a unique and very cool position.  The millions of items in our inventory put us at a distinct advantage over all traditional ecommerce stores (whose inventories are measured in hundreds, maybe thousands, but never millions) and other eBay alternative sites.  But this bounty of great stuff can become as much a curse as a blessing when you want to browse for something like jeans, t-shirts, or jewelry.  If you don't know exactly what you're looking for, you can find yourself paging through literally thousands of items, 98% of which hold little to no appeal to you.  

We are determined to fix that.  While we've seen other sites make reasonable attempts to understand user tastes, we think there's a huge difference in this case between doing personalization OK and doing it great.

But does it work?

After ironing out some early bugs (thanks you furry forest creatures, but dudes aren't too keen on the dresses and panties m'kay!), we have reached the point where the biggest opportunity to improve our personalization results will be feeding more data to our algorithm, er, to our forest creatures.  In our testing, we have found that the results already tend to be pretty good, but the way that we will make them "how did it do that?"-great will be by releasing it into the wild and iterating with real data.

The other factor that will drive the quality of our recommendations is the size of our inventory.  In the Bonanza of the future, no longer will a few million items be an overwhelming number to browse.  We'd love to see Bonanza become the home for even more great sellers, so if you've got a store that you love to shop that isn't on Bonanza, invite them over, eh?

Does personalization still work only for clothing & fashion items?

As of today, yes.  We will certainly be looking for opportunities to expand into adjacent categories as we hone in on the quality of our results, but we'd rather build something awesome in one vertical, rather than something that's OK in many.

Are you ever going to stop yammering on and on about this?

I'm considering it.  At this point I'd call it 50/50.  

How can I improve the quality of my results?

Start faving items!  Not only will it earn you Bonanza reward points, it will help us get a sense for your aesthetic so that we can find stuff that suits you.

Will this affect search results?

Nope.  Search results will remain separate, so the same factors apply there as always.  At this point, browsing one's recommendations is a separate experience from searching, though we do plan to add faceting to the recommendation experience soon (so you can do stuff like filter by size).

I want to try it now, not soon.  How can I?

I love your enthusiasm, it gets us pumped up to see you've gotten so into this.  You can start reviewing your recommendations now by visiting My Bonanza -> Account Settings -> Other Options and enabling "experimental features."  When you next return to the "My Bonanza" page you'll have a link to the personality quiz.  We plan to launch this site-wide by the weekend.

As long as you're here blogging, what else have you guys been up to lately?

Lots!  In addition to personalization, we've also been improving the accuracy and usability of our item importers, speeding up page load times, and squasing our usual assortment of bugs.  We also have some very exciting usability improvements for our sellers on the horizion, so do stay tuned!

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