Friday, March 8, 2019

Personal Alertness and Beating the Algorithms

New update below.

By Robert Wenzel

There is a certain type of shirt I like. The 100% cotton button-down Oxford-type style.

Brooks Brothers sells them for $140, and occasionally puts them on sale at 25% off.

Jos. A. Banks has a similar shirt for $89.00. They sometimes put the shirt on sale for $39.50. I believe I once saw it on sale for $24.50.

For some reason, the other day, I happened upon a 100% cotton button down Oxford-type style shirt on Amazon carrying the Amazon Essentials brand name. It was on sale for $18.00.

I studied the shirt on the Amazon page very closely. I magnified it and then did it again.

It certainly appeared to be of the same quality as the much higher priced shirts.

I decided to buy one:
ORDER PLACED March 4, 2019
Delivered TuesdayYour package was delivered. It was handed directly to a resident
Amazon Essentials Men's Regular-Fit Long-Sleeve Solid Pocket Oxford Shirt, Yellow, Large
Sold by: Services, Inc
Return eligible through Apr 4, 2019 $18.00
I wore it yesterday. It was very comfortable and it sure seemed to be of similar quality to the ones from the other retailers. I will see how it wears over time.

But here is the thing, the day after I bought the shirt, ads started popping up on webpages from Google Adsense showing Jos. A. Bank ads offering me their button-down shirts for $18.00!

The Google algorithm had clearly spotted my Amazon purchase and must have signalled to Jos. A. Bank what price they needed to offer to compete.

I have written about this before. I really don't know why anyone would block ads that are non-intrusive. Most of them I just ignore but every once and awhile some ad appears that is a great offer for me.

And now I learn that Google algorithms are feeding competitors the information that they have to aggressively price their goods to get my business. Wonderful!

I think I am getting the hang of how I can train Google algos to do this a lot.

A Silicon Valley acquaintance of mine recently decided he wanted to check out the job market and perhaps move on from his current company. He had gotten the occasional call from a headhunter in the past but now he was getting serious about his job hunt. So he went to Linked-In and sent, through their webpage, resumes to several firms that he would consider working for.

Suddenly, his email inbox filled-up with job opportunities from headhunters. I mean they were pouring in. My acquaintance's best guess is that Linked-In offers headhunters the names of hot prospects. Sending out resumes is a pretty good sign of a hot prospect for headhunters.

So if you are currently looking for a job, I think it is pretty obvious how to get the Linked-In algos working for you.

I once made a lot of money figuring out, early on, a rudimentary algo that helped me provide a financial service for my clients. It took me less than an hour a day but the checks flowed in.

To me, it seems there is just too much algo hate out there. With just a little personal alertness, you can make algos work for you.

If there are times you don't want the algos to know what you are up to, well then take the necessary measures, but for the most part they are really just good little well-behaved fun puppies.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.


The Google app has Jos. A. Bank in panic mode. The button-down is now priced at only $14.99 now. Note the $89.50 is an accurate regular price and normally I see it "on sale" for $39.50.



  1. Coincidentally I recently placed something I wanted that cost around 40 bucks into my Amazon cart and then left the website.

    The next day my Amazon phone app gives me a notification that the item is still in my cart. I swiped it away.

    An hour or so later I get a new notification from the phone app saying there is a flash deal on the item in my cart and I have a few hours to get it at 40% off.

    I ended up getting it at 20 bucks with free Prime shipping (which I got free in a deal with my phone carrier).

    Ain't market competition grand?

    1. Yep. We do this regularly with Amazon and others. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but it is usually worth it to wait a few days for a better price.

  2. When I wait a few days amazon increases the price if it does anything. If I put it in my save-for-later maybe weeks or months later the price will go down briefly. When the price goes up in hours or days when I get back to it I order it from somewhere else or forego the purchase. I don't know what their algorithm is trying to achieve other than encouraging 'don't delay, buy today'. It also does not seem to be a special increase for me. Coming at it from a different IP, different browser or Torbrowser almost always shows the new higher price. So is it that I just have bad timing? I don't know, only that it has happened dozens of times when I've delayed purchasing. (also it's not an out-of-stock or other switch to a different seller)

    1. Do you think there is a difference depending on what you do? For example, if you just look at an item, or put it in your cart, but then don't buy it, they lower the price. If you put it in your wishlist of items you want and are planning to get later, they increase the price.

  3. I can't envision spending that kind of money on a shirt. I don't have a pipeline to the Federal Reserve spigot like you do, I guess! LOL.

  4. LL Bean. Best wrinkle-free oxford shirts. They run 25% off quite often.