Analyzing consumer-product graphs: Empirical findings and applications in recommender systems

Zan Huang, Daniel D. Zeng, Hsinchun Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


We apply random graph modeling methodology to analyze bipartite consumer-product graphs that represent sales transactions to better understand consumer purchase behavior in e-commerce settings. Based on two real-world e-commerce data sets, we found that such graphs demonstrate topological features that deviate significantly from theoretical predictions based on standard random graph models. In particular, we observed consistently larger-than-expected average path lengths and a greater-than-expected tendency to cluster. Such deviations suggest that the consumers' product choices are not random even with the consumer and product attributes hidden. Our findings provide justification for a large family of collaborative filtering-based recommendation algorithms that make product recommendations based only on previous sales transactions. By analyzing the simulated consumer-product graphs generated by models that embed two representative recommendation algorithms, we found that these recommendation algorithm-induced graphs generally provided a better match with the real-world consumer-product graphs than purely random graphs. However, consistent deviations in topological features remained. These findings motivated the development of a new recommendation algorithm based on graph partitioning, which aims to achieve high clustering coefficients similar to those observed in the real-world e-commerce data sets. We show empirically that this algorithm significantly outperforms representative collaborative filtering algorithms in situations where the observed clustering coefficients of the consumer-product graphs are sufficiently larger than can be accounted for by these standard algorithms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1146-1164
Number of pages19
JournalManagement Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Collaborative filtering
  • Consumer-purchase behavior
  • Random graph theory
  • Recommender systems
  • Topological features

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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