Personalized and Customized Works Best Online

There’s a key element to online shopping that can’t be replicated in the bricks & mortar world and it’s one that e-commerce vendors should take note.

1. The ability to browse endlessly through a multitude of combinations and permutations

2. The ability to customize ones order with great precision.

Or as Rory Sutherland put it so eloquently at TED

…if you’re on Expedia or you’re on easyJet you can interrogate your possible choices to a degree which, if performed face-to-face, would make you an asshole. If I spent three hours on the phone with a travel agent, and after three hours, I was saying, “And would it be 20p cheaper if I went on Wednesday?” unless I was an unbelievably thick-skinned individual, I’d be conscious of the fact that the guy was thinking, “This guy is a real pain.” Now, when I interact online, I can be as much of a pain as I like. I can be the world’s most-demanding, world’s worst customer and there’ s no one to mind.

That’s probably why travel was one of the first industries to go e-commerce mainstream. Not only are there psychological barriers but the economic incentives for commissioned travel agents are to get booked relatively quickly so they can move onto their next commission.

That got me thinking of other things where the online shopping experience trumps the real world because we don’t want to waste a sales person’s time.

Computers: Dell’s done well selling direct because for a lot of buyers, there’s way too many options, upgrades, and add-ons to consider.

Custom Clothing: They have your size but the wrong colour. The right colour but the wrong size. For some, clothing shopping is frustrating. Online shopping carries the uncertainty that what you buy won’t fit. That’s probably why T-shirts and shoes, which seem to have the most standardized sizes, have worked online. And when you’re talking customized a la Zazzle.com or Nike ID, the possibilities (and browsing time) are endless.

Delivered Prepared Foods: Pizza Hut sold over $1 million worth of pizzas through its iPhone application. It makes sense. There are way more pizza toppings than there used to be not to mention crust and cheese options. Why trouble a phone operator? Online ordering can work for a variety of take out food that’s often customized. Think Sushi, Asian takeout, and Rotis.

Cars: Ok, we still want to go to the lot, sit behind the wheel, take in that new car smell and test-drive our new baby. But then we come to unpleasant part, haggling with salesperson. Moreover, we’re haggling before we decide all the options. Sure, you can build and price most cars on a manufacturer’s web sites before entering the dealership but they never include the after-market add-ons or dealership specific servicing options. Once you pick your base model car, it would be great if you could go home choose all your options, consult with whomever you need to, then go  back to the dealership to make a deal.

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