The Customer is the Center

THE BIG IDEA: “Cookies and tracking software? Who needs em? People are creating taste-signals daily with what they choose to buy. Why not let the customer go directly to the brand/vendor and get rid of this guesswork?”

[this is based on an amazing project spearheaded by Doc Searls and housed by The Berkman Center (Harvard) called VRM or Vendor Relationship Management, which I have been a participant in since 2008]

THE BIG ISSUE: “It is a big drag to sit and enter one’s entire shopping history. The incentives are fuzzy and don’t really matter to the average consumer. In order to make this happen, we need to create incentives as well as benefits in the near term while we move towards the big picture.”

The social shopping sphere is in the midst of an explosion right now. What we are seeing are multiple sites emerge that allow people to gather products together in fun and social ways to create everything from collages to collections of the beautiful stuff we aspire to. These sites seem to have a good amount of pick up with all sorts of influential types posting beautiful objects.

So, it’s really daunting as a startup in this crowded space to try and navigate through everything to position ourselves as something ‘different’ altogether. How do we know we will break through the noise and actually achieve our goals?

Well, for one, aspirational is not where we fit. Sure, I really really love that $3,500 Sliding Sofa at Design Within Reach that I’ve coveted for a good 5 years now, but I’m still not in a position to buy it. What I *did* buy, however, is a simple sofa from Ikea that cost me $499. Certainly, the styles are similar, but the price points are very very different. If I’m collecting data on my preferences that will be consumed by future brands and retailers, it behooves me to get back recommendations based on what I can afford rather than what is way out of my reach. When I can afford that DWR sofa, and if I still love it (as long as my taste preferences don’t change), I’ll post it. We do have an option for WANT!, but that data is weighted differently than the ‘haves’.

Other sites are collecting EVERYTHING we buy, which we don’t see as incredibly datalicious either. I may or may not define my taste profile through the stuff that I regularly spend money on. Certain products I buy and stores I frequent are merely because of convenience or sales. Others are because I’m loyal to them. It’s really difficult for any database cruncher to gr0k which is which and what really drives my buying decisions. Groceries, for instance. I would totally define myself as a Trader Joe’s girl and if I lived anywhere near one today (even 3 hours away), I would go out of my way to get to it to do all of my shopping. But I’ve lived in Montreal for the past year and a half and I’ve just gone where it’s convenient to go. Same with Zappos. Living back in Canada forces me to buy my shoes at the mall these days as the selection online isn’t the same as when I was in the US. It doesn’t mean I’m all of a sudden in love with Aldo. Crunching my credit card data doesn’t give an actual picture of my preferences.

Lastly and most importantly, we are focused on putting the customer at the absolute center of everything we do. That means that we are completely vendor/brand neutral. Even if we can’t ever collect affiliate revenue from an Etsy.com store, we work hard to parse emails and make our bookmarklet work for Etsy because many of our current users buy loads of amazing things there. And that is valuable data in itself. Buying from Etsy means you probably like unique, hand-crafted items that aren’t bulk produced. Maybe you would prefer recommendations from more local artisans. This is also why we want to get cracking on a mobile version of Shwowp sooner than later. The ‘buy local’ movement needs to be served as well and is a big part of the way many people vote through buying.

So at the end of the day, how do we differentiate ourselves from the flurry of social commerce sites popping up (what seems to be daily!)? We are about:

  • the ACTUAL (not aspirational – no out-hipstering one another!)
  • the MEANINGFUL (more interested in the stories behind why you buy and will soon be adding the ability to talk about life cycles of products)
  • the TASTE SIGNALING (helping people tell the world how they vote through what they buy)

The customer and the future of the customer’s data is at the center of everything. And though data may not seem to be something incredibly sexy, I believe we will be an incredibly important part of our online identities in the future. We are just trying to make it meaningful and interesting for people to gather it in the meantime. Social is at the core of us being individually interesting beings and that is the most interesting part of the data at the end of the day. Because consumerism, after all, is less about the material objects we buy and more about the signals we send.

Categories: Buyosphere, featured, vrm

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.

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2 Comments on “The Customer is the Center”

  1. February 11, 2011 at 15:35 #

    hello everyone, I’m new on here and excited to be a part of the conversation !

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  1. Tweets that mention The Customer is the Center | horsepigcow -- Topsy.com - February 9, 2011

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tara missrogue Hunt, James Burke, Aerin Guy, SM Bollocks, JobShoots and others. JobShoots said: The Customer is the Center http://bit.ly/gKR2Dh #news #socialmedia [...]

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