Large Problem: Across the web, no one has solved this problem—not even Google (for products that is). People are developing more content around products beyond just the description, which is helpful, but finding products is still really tough. Googling a product is useless, especially, since brands use different terms than consumers to describe a product (ie using the ‘cloud’ as a color is not the same or discoverable as ‘white’, but many brands and retailers do not get this SEO factor). Going to your favorite online retailers is your best bet, but if they are too extensively merchandised such as Amazon or Zappos, you are screwed. Endless.com has some of the better filtering experiences , but it is still hard to find exactly what you want within a retailer let alone across the web. The Paradox of Choice plagues us all and with an overwhelming amount of stuff on the Internets, we can get frustrated and exhausted trying to consume. Additionally, those with the best SEO will win even though they might not have the exactly right product you are looking for–you will probably just give up. Discovery is a HUGE problem. New angles on this challenge will gain traction , for example, ModCloth and Etsy have created great experiences to discover unique stuff. New companies solving discovery will emerge.
Due to this conundrum, there are a lot of prospects to solve the discovery issue and a lot of data to work with–not just search terms but leveraging personal elements (demographic, history, likes/social media conversation), social/influencer data, and better product information.
Models described below address this challenge in both technical and non-technical ways.
Curation: Typically, you discover stuff by browsing stores. Creating highly curated stores will make discovery more inviting. Sites like Ahalife and Everlane use interesting people/personalities that people can identify with and these people to a degree curate their stores . The older version of this was CSN stores or NetShops, which created super niche stores and bought the niche’s domain names to help with search. The newer version of finding interesting, indie products may include adding content (to help with search) and adding personalities for a consumer to identify with and who help source the goods among many other mechanisms.
Social: Shopping in the offline world is inherently social. You see this with ladies shopping in groups, getting opinions from friends or stylists/salespeople,discovering new items from friends or the sales people, and showing off your latest purchase to your friends. This helps for people to discover new items from trusted or relevant sources–other people with the same tastes or people you trust. With the explosion of everything being social, there are easy channels and adoption these social shopping habits. These behaviors have sparsely been mirrored in the online realm. So, there is opportunity to innovate drastically.A few examples include Pose , which allows you to get feedback from friends, or Snapette that allows you to capture, share, and discover products out IRL, which start to mimic these behaviors. Sneakpeeq uses game mechanics to encourage online sharing of wants and purchases. Yet, there is still ample opportunity to increase the ubiquity of these tools.
Influence: Beyond just feedback or sharing, there is , of course, there is the influence or ‘trend setting’ factor. This concept is nothing new.. In 1905, Richard Sears sent boxes of his company’s mail-order catalogues to his best customers in Iowa and asked each one to distribute them among friends and neighbours. Mr Sears collected the names of those who received the catalogues and, if they purchased an item, rewarded the “inﬂuencers” with a gift, in the form of a stove, perhaps, or a sewing machine.
However, now there are better channels and mechanisms for influencing. Anyone from friends to bloggers to celebs play their influencing role. Influencers are influential in certain circumstances. For instance, friends are not always the influencers in buying fashion since you might have different tastes, and rather celebs or bloggers might be those that sway your purchasing decisions. While some people love Yelp, I hate the 4 star default. Traditional reviews and recommendations on products/services no longer have influence on my decisions (I know I’m not the only one either), thus, new ways to get insights from various influencers that matter to you will arise. I know of a few startups tackling the ‘review’ and influence problem in a few different angles. Ultimately, different profiles and people have different levels of influence on the type of product or service and on the information you are extracting from them.
Behavioral incentives ( eg BJ Fogg’s persuasive technology, Dan Ariely (author)’s Predictably Irrational examples , or in laymen’s terms ‘Game Mechanics’ ), are driving ways to improve engagement and influence within the shopping realm. Beyond the monetary incentives of deals or urgency with flash sales, there are many other types of influence to incite purchases. Some examples are offering new ways to engage with more content and media surrounding products, point systems, sharing, which get you vanity, monetary, or entertainment rewards. Alternatively, influence can come from buying because it’s from trusted sources (people and stores), other people with whom you identify are sporting those goods, it’s personalized, it’s showing up at your doorstep, it’s a better visual or engaging experience etc…
A few companies are creating platforms to shepherd influencers to promote items. This model has been seen time and time again in various forms. This can be from influence as a special person such as a celeb (ie Kim Kardashian and Shoedazzle to BeachMint) or ‘host/peer pressure’ whether the Tupperware party and other Multi-level Marketing (ie Stella & Dot or Chloe & Isabel) , which are structured in ways to promote and incite people to buy (previously highly deal oriented).
Curation, social , and influence all help with not only the discovery but engagement and distribution of goods to relevant people online.