I ran across an interesting article today that didn’t ask the question how technology can help users find what they want, it asked how technology can help people discover what they didn’t expect to want.
That got me thinking, yesterday I was out shopping with a friend for storage boxes. We specifically visited a home retail outlet to buy boxes and we wanted them today. However whilst wandering through the store I spotted some crockery which I knew she would love and pointed them out to her. The result was she purchased the accessories (Tea, coffee, sugar pots, spoon rest, and pictured glass chopping board) and I bought the dining set (Dinner plates, bowls, side plates). In fact as it was a set of four places I bought two sets for her and we called it a late birthday present.
The thing is she didn’t want or need a new crockery set. We weren’t looking for them and we would never have purchased them if we hadn’t stumbled upon them while looking for something else.
The article was written by Marc Leibowitz, VP Business Development and Marketing, StumbleUpon, the company that eBay once purchased full of hope for helping shoppers to find the things they didn’t expect to want. eBay later sold Stumbleupon back to the founders, unable to find a use for it. More recently eBay purchased Hunch for the same purpose.
I buy lots on eBay, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve grabbed my laptop to make an impulse purchase on eBay for something I just had to have. However I can’t remember the last time I bought something on eBay that I didn’t know I wanted.
That’s a problem that not only eBay but also Amazon and many other sites have yet to solve. Both eBay and Amazon fall foul of the easy trap, showing me the similar items to the last products I searched for or purchased. Just how many beds and drills do they think I need? At the moment eBay are showing me a vast selection of mobile phone micro SIM to Sim card converter cards as that was the last thing I bought. Guess what, I don’t want or need any more!
Daily deals have gone some way towards showing me things I might want buy but didn’t know I wanted, but that’s limited. Sometimes it’s spot on and I purchase, more often it’s not what I want. When I do know what I want retail sites search engines button hole me into a category leaving me no opportunity to make a random purchase.
The sites need to realise that if I buy, for example a duvet with a picture of a dog on it, then I might be in the market for dog mugs in six weeks time. If I buy a cat flap this week I might be a cat lover and purchase a tea towel decorated with cats in the future. I might even buy something a little more obscure such as a clock in the shape of a cat. Equally someone else may have a cat or dog and the last thing they would ever buy are cat and dog related items, retailers need to know which camp I fall in.
Even that doesn’t go far enough though, I want online retailers to show me the cat clock even if I’ve never purchased any cat related items along with other things I want to buy but don’t know I want.
This article isn’t supposed to be a criticism of eBay or Amazon. I simply pose the question how can the sites improve and as Mark says in the original article “It’s important to match users by their potential to be like-minded, without assuming too much from their expressed likes and dislikes or from their stated social connections”.
We don’t always know what we want but we do want to be shown it anyway. That’s the next challenge for marketplaces and retailers to crack.