A Technological Stab in the Back

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Technological Stab in the Back

As much as I loathe Wal-Mart's business practices, even I (almost) feel sorry for them in this situation. In case you missed it:
Early Thursday afternoon, some bloggers discovered a horrifying sight: Wal-Mart's retail Web site was telling potential buyers of "Planet of the Apes" DVDs that they might also like to buy DVDs featuring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., black boxing legend Jack Johnson and black actress Dorothy Dandridge.

In another nasty linkage, those titles were also recommended to buyers of a "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" DVD.

... Perceived racism is like anthrax to a company: potentially deadly and hard to clean off. The graveness of the situation was reflected in Wal-Mart's quick public apology, in which it said it was "heartsick" over the incident.

... [Wal-Mart] called the unfortunate product linkage a problem involving its "mapping" technology. On a retail site, mapping takes product titles -- books, CDs, DVDs, etc. -- and thematically links them to other products. It has turned out to be a powerful consumer theory, made popular by Amazon.com ...

... But as mega-corps such as Wal-Mart, Amazon and Target profit from the Web, they are discovering it has drawbacks, as well.

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