Search Is Friction; But We Can Humanize Product Searches For Best Results

Mashable is running a feature on the future of e-commerce.

I really like this pro-employment, high-touch prediction from Chuck Cohn, CEO of Varsity Tutors.

Many consumers appreciate the assistance of a real person when it comes to certain types of shopping. Technology will enable companies to provide a concierge-style service that will use underlying personalization algorithms to allow a real person to make recommendations to you. The added personalization of human reps will be justified by far more meaningful and long-lasting relationships with the consumer. Trust will be built, and consumers will grow accustomed to outsourcing much of the online shopping experience to a personal assistant.

I can think of many applications for this kind of service that blends technology with human ingenuity and care. Let’s take wine — it’s a two billion dollar a year industry in Oregon alone. There are hundreds of wineries, each with several vintages and varietals. Buying Oregon wine is complex; therefore, a human concierge with access to one’s buying preferences and purchase history may be able to help.


Recently, Evan Williams, native Nebraskan and founder of Blogger and Twitter spoke at XOXO, a year-two conference for nerd elite in Portland. According to Wired, Williams said the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.”

“Convenience on the internet is basically achieved by two things: speed, and cognitive ease.” In other words, people don’t want to wait, and they don’t want to think — and the internet should respond to that. “If you study what the really big things on the internet are, you realize they are masters at making things fast and not making people think.”

Searching databases is not fast. Searching Google is not fun.

Say you have a keen interest in 2007 Pinot Noir from a short list of favorite Dundee Hills producers. Finding available cases of this 2007 pinot is an involved search, one that requires the delicate hand of a new kind of technician to scout the data and report back with significant findings.

I think an opt-in program where buyers willingly “teach the machine” about individual preferences so the data service knows when to send alerts and activate a customer service call is a pretty big idea.

We may think of the phone as friction today, but the phone is not friction when your personal buyer is calling with the low down on the case of wine you were tracking. Rather, it’s a quick confirmation with a trusted paid advisor.

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