It’s Valentine’s Day and blogging about e-commerce just feels right… Keep your fingers crossed for ice.com, one of our recent e-commerce investments. It’s a big week for their business.
I had a good discussion today with a friend of mine who was one of the founders of Mobissimo (travel search) about the difference between shopping and buying.
Much of the Internet is optimized for buying: if you know what it is you are looking for, everything from Google to comparison shopping engines will help you find it quickly and at a reasonable price. Search is a great metaphor for this. Tell me what you are looking for. Here is where you can find it.
Shopping is about the “if” part above. It is about product discovery. Discovery is a big deal because it happens before an intent to buy is formed. How a purchasing decision is framed during the discovery process may determine which product ends up being selected. Great sales people everywhere know that cold.
OK, everyone wants an iPod (search works great for that) but does everyone want a Bob jogging stroller? What if they are just looking for a jogging stroller but don’t know what kind they want to buy? The Google query results are just not that helpful to me. JoggingStroller.com is a great site but how do I know they cover enough of the universe of jogging strollers? How do I know I’m not missing that One Great Jogging Stroller? I can open a few more sites but they are all geared towards buying and not towards shopping.
So I go to the thefind.com and search for jogging stroller. I get 12,189 results from 540 stores. I’m not sure about you but to me that answer is both annoying and depressing. Annoying because I bet there aren’t 12,189 types of jogging strollers out there. It shows that thefind.com has good crawling tech and pretty poor equivalence matching algorithms. Depressing because those kinds of numbers just make me feel like I’ll never be sure I picked the right one. (That has to do with the paradox of choice.)
Determined, I go to become.com. The same query delivers 687 products. That’s better. I like products. I’m looking for products. I wasn’t looking for “results”, which is what I got on thefind. Beyond that, become.com doesn’t offer any meaningful help in finding the right jogging stroller. Also, as Siva from thefind points out in the comments to this post, there is a qualitative difference in the result sets between thefind and become.com, though I wonder whether the average consumer will know and understand that difference.
Jonah posted in the comments section that trying this out on shopwiki produced 387 results, all legitimate products. Per Siva’s comment above, I’m not sure about shopwiki’s business model so I can’t say whether this result is good or bad. The user experience on the site doesn’t help much with shopping, though.
These sites miss something that any good salesperson knows about. The right match between a buyer and a product is as much about the buyer as it is about the product. Ever tried to buy a digital camera at Best Buy? The good salespeople are curious about your life and how you want to use the camera. They are not just building a relationship (though that’s important also). They are restricting the product set that makes sense for you in order to simplify the comparison shopping process. They want to know enough about you in order to present 2-3 reasonable models for you to choose from. The bad salespeople give you an earful about the specs of all top-selling models.
Which sites out there do a good job of discovery, i.e., helping people figure out what to buy as opposed to helping people buy what they know they want to buy?