When you subscribe you can set keywords to tell the bot what sort of packages want. Since July the number of addresses with avocado selected as a positive keyword have tracked perfectly with those that want whisky. To be clear, we do not sell whisky or avocados as these are both expensive and tricky to ship. These keywords will get you accessories. Like whisky stones or an avocado slicer.
As you can see, there was a sudden selloff of whisky and avocado over the summer. Then demand for both grew slowly until a couple weeks ago when avocado and whisky keywords got deselected by dozens of subscribers, going down 33% and 59% respectively. Now the bot isn’t buying as many of those avocado slicers.
You might think, perhaps it is the same people who have both avocado and whisky selected. Perhaps they like some scotch with their guacamole. Nope! Look at the low flat black line. There have been just seven people asking for both whisky and avocados since August. All the change is in addresses which have just one or the other. Is this just noise? Probably. With thousands of keywords are there going to be some spurious correlations? I suppose so. Or perhaps both peak in the spring and fall for reasons that are hard to explain. We will have to wait to see what happens next.
I got a good and fairly specific question by email a few days ago that provides a bit of a glimpse into the bot’s inner workings with some colorful charts.
Q: I was just wondering when changes to budget and number of items go into effect. I’d assume that the budget changes when the next billing period hits. However I’d assume that keyword changes go into effect immediately (or daily), and I’m not sure when a change to the number of packages would happen (hopefully not until the budget change happens too). Just curious as to when all of these things happen.
A: All these changes get complicated surprisingly quickly.
Keyword changes get implemented once or twice per week, but obviously there is a delay caused by shipping. Packages you get today will probably be based on last month’s keywords.
On your account you can set how many packages you want the bot to buy for each address. Here you are actually setting the bot’s “package preference” for the address, which is a number from 1 to 10. That number tells the bot how long it should wait before ordering another package. The bot uses the below colorful eye charts to figure this out. For example, if you have the slider set dead in the middle and your budget is $30/month the bot will generate a new order every 2.2 days with a target budget of $2.16 per package. If an item is bought for less than the target budget, the bot rolls over the balance to the next package. The slider on the site will read 9-18 packages per month and the bot will aim for 13.9 packages per month. Changing the number of items increases or decreases the package preference, which in turn changes the time between new orders and target budget.
In generating packages the bot only looks at budget changes that have gone into effect. For example, if you set your budget to $0 for all addresses the bot will stop charging you but will keep generating packages until the funds run out.
Increases in your budget go into effect immediately, but you are only ever charged once per month. A pro-rated amount is added to the next billing cycle after you made the change. So if you signed up for $30/month and increased your budget to $40/month halfway through your first month the bot would tack on a $5 pro-rated charge to your next renewal.
Decreases in your total budget go into effect at the next renewal date. The idea here is that someone adding addresses or budget likely doesn’t want to wait to get packages. Usually decreases are cancellations, and in those cases the bot needs to spend the rest of the funds.
A subscriber to the bot wrote in today…
I have changed a keyword from being positive to negative yet am still getting packages with that keyword. When I set [my account] up originally I selected mystery as one of the key words, then since a lot of the packages had this keyword I removed it. I was still getting packages with the mystery keyword so I then added it as a negative keyword. How quickly do keyword changes take effect? As there have been new packages with the mystery keyword since I made that change.
The keyword ‘mystery’ and ‘random’ are unique. These words essentially refer to anything that you haven’t specifically asked for, which includes everything bought by the bot. So these keywords will match every product the bot has.
New orders that are “pending” where the bot hasn’t yet confirmed the order are also marked as ‘mystery’. So everyone will always see a few ‘mystery’ packages at the top of their account. Eventually those ‘mystery’ packages reveal the keywords they are tagged with and get a better estimated arrival date. Over time the packages become less mysterious.
It is impossible for the bot to buy packages not tagged as ‘random’ or ‘mystery’ so adding them as negative keywords won’t change anything. The ‘mystery’ packages that you see on your account are placeholders and once confirmed will change their keywords. If you really don’t want any mystery, you could have only one, clearly defined, positive keywords on your account. Then you will be guaranteed no mystery. But that is kind of besides the point here. We want some mystery and surprise.
Keyword changes take effect once a week with a few exceptions where they get updated more quickly. The bot runs a program to determine which products match which users’ keywords. These are the stats from that program last week…
Products matching keywords: average is 4,346 products per address
Required positive keywords: average is 26 keywords per address
An angry Batman armored minifigure from TT toys has a cape, grimace and glazed over eyes, presumably because of all the injustice in Gotham. This is one of the most popular items bought by the bot. What I didn’t quite understand, was why Batman has a gun. After some digging, I have figured it out. TT Toys is a Milan based manufacturer that specializes in replica pedal and electric cars. Not bat specialists*. I have no idea how they got from tiny cars to superheroes but perhaps they should stick to making Lamborghinis you can pedal around the block. Batman doesn’t use guns. Wikipedia confirms: “An exception to the range of Batman’s equipment are guns, which he refuses to use on principle, since a gun was used in his parents’ murder.” On the other hand, perhaps TT toys are on to something. As you can see from the below feedback chart a whooping 86% of subscribers who get this little guy give the package a thumbs up. Not bad at all.
* A bat specialist is called a chiropterologist. The more you know.
Jan 20, 2016
Another oddly specific tool – here is n knife specially designed for opening ipads.
The bot found this last week using the keyword “tool” which picks up quite a few of these very specialized tools that you only discover after trawling through the underbelly of AliExpress.
Lets put this in the oddly specific category… here is an item that the bot found for the keyword “tool” last week.
This is a tool that “is great for easily fitting and removing spring bars and watch band lugs”. It looks more like a dentist’s tool to me. It must be helpful for watch self-repair somehow. If this arrives in your mailbox, perhaps you can let us know.