Tech Talk: Amazon Maintains E-Commerce Lead Through Bot Tech

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Amazon has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the mid-'90s, taking the title of the largest U.S. retailer by market capitalization from Walmart in 2015, more than half a decade after becoming the biggest e-commerce company on the planet. The Seattle, Washington-based firm is still maintaining its industry lead to this date due to a number of factors, but largely thanks to – bots.

While consumers associate Amazon's name with the company's robust retail and delivery network, the e-commerce giant managed to dominate this field primarily through its technological advancements, many of which revolve around bots. As autonomous network programs that are highly automated in nature, bots — or robots — are a key tool for contemporary e-commerce companies that rely on them to keep their rivals and their prices under surveillance while simultaneously trying to prevent their competitors from doing the same. Today's e-commerce market is largely an arms race in bot tech, with all major players in the industry trying to innovate in this field in an effort to undercut their competitors without giving them the chance to match their prices by essentially keeping them in the dark about their endeavors. As it turns out, Amazon is the leading company in this field and its currently utilized proprietary bot technology can hardly be fooled or matched by that of its competitors.

Walmart's engineers can likely attest to that fact, seeing how Amazon recently managed to tweak its website to indirectly disable their bot network that was surveying Amazon.com and cataloging its prices a few million times per day. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer had its bot network rendered useless for weeks in early 2017 and ended up paying for access to Amazon's data from another source, industry insiders claim. This turn of events not only led to Walmart spending more money on tracking Amazon's prices but also likely resulted in a significant number of lost sales seeing how the company was unable to automatically adjust its prices based on those of Amazon for weeks.

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While the e-commerce giant denied leading an active campaign against its rivals' bot networks, a company spokesperson recently confirmed that human traffic is prioritized over robots when necessary, without clarifying on the matter. In practice, Amazon's January move that prevented Walmart from automatically surveying its prices likely earned the company a lot of money at the expense of its competitor, and as the firm keeps evolving its technology, keeping up with its anti-bot techniques while simultaneously preventing its own bots will become an increasingly difficult task for its rivals, some industry watchers believe. Amazon's prowess in this field is even more impressive in light of the fact that the company refrains from using CAPTCHA solutions — still the most efficient method of stopping bot traffic — because it believes they annoy a significant portion of its customers.

As Amazon keeps evolving its crawling and anti-crawling technology, its competitors are investing an increasing amount of resources to surveying its website, with some industry insiders claiming that as much as 80 percent of clicks on the company's product listings comes from bots. Despite the overwhelming amounts of bot traffic hitting its website, Amazon is seemingly still the leading force in this field, as evidenced by the fact that not a single one of its rivals has yet found a viable strategy to consistently undercut it in an automated manner. As long as that's the case, the Seattle-based company will likely continue dominating the e-commerce sector mostly unchallenged, though time will tell whether some of its competitors or an emerging startup manage to disrupt that successful business model.