It’s not just you: Amazon’s search results are increasingly made up of paid product placements, listed as “Sponsored.”
Sometimes these results can be downright confusing. I searched specifically for Western Digital hard drives in the example above, only for the top two results to be products from competing companies.
These sponsored posts are increasingly common. Rani Molla, writing for Recode, outlines the search results for cereal:
The first three results, which take up the whole screen above the fold—everything visible before you scroll—are sponsored placements that appear as search results: Ads for Kellogg’s Special K, Quaker Life and Cap’n Crunch. (It’s similarly dramatic on mobile, where it takes up the entire first screen.) This is followed by a section featuring Amazon’s own brand, 365 Everyday Value, which was part of its Whole Foods acquisition.
Not until scrolling down halfway on the next browser “page” do organic search results—non-paid, non-Amazon brands—come up: Post’s Honey Bunches of Oats and Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats and Frosted Flakes.
The full article has a bunch more examples, but you can see this effect in action yourself by searching for basically anything on Amazon.
So is this an example of a tech company doing something physical stores could only dream of? Not exactly. Grocery chains charge food companies millions to be stocked prominently, and have for decades. Phil Edwards outlined this in a video for Vox:
So you can argue that Amazon, a digital retailer, is doing something similar to their brick and mortar competitors.
I personally still find it annoying to search for a specific brand and see another one entirely come up first in the search results. It makes the shopping experience worse—though you could argue the same thing about grocery store placement battles. In either case, knowing what’s happening can help you make better decisions while shopping, so pay attention.