How much information would you share with a retailer?

I recently decided to join a social website called Hunch, after reading an article in Wired magazine.  Hunch provide a range of recommendations for products to its members.  Established retailers such as Amazon base their recommendations on purchase history. Hunch aims to get more accurate recommendations, by inviting its members to share information about themselves by asking lots of questions up-front.

During the registration process, I was asked an initial 20 questions that were somewhere between performing a psychometric test and playing “truth” game at party.  Questions included: “Which of these pictures do you find attractive?, Do your prefer cats or dogs, Do you have coffee black or white?”.   I followed up with a further 50 questions on specific topics, such as favourite books, cultural interests and technology.

After each set of questions, I checked the recommendations provided.  The results were quite interesting.  Hunch did guess my favourite drink and movies, but missed widely on my favourite books. The most amusing moment, was a question on whether Bugs Bunny was “1.Straight, 2.Gay, 3. Gay, but doesn’t know it”. 

I was concerned about answering so many personal questions and the experience has left me with mixed feelings towards Bugs Bunny.  However, I haven’t received a torrent of spam or acquired an internet stalker…   Can you really get people to share large amounts of personal information, just by making it fun?

The next question is what would retailers do with such a rich set of customer information provided voluntarily?  Can they be trusted not to share it with third parties?


Google Instant Search – catering for ever shorter attention spans

Google recently unveiled Instant Search to its online users.   This provides search results to customers ‘instantly’ as they type in search terms, without the need to submit the search.   Instant Search appears to be the next stage in quick search experience, after ‘auto-complete’ search criteria. 

We know that customers have become increasingly impatient with ever increasing broadband internet speeds.  Instant Search is certainly a good way to hold ever short attention spans.  Although it is too early to tell how customers will respond to this. 

It is interesting to see how Google is phasing in this feature, apparently it is not available everywhere.  It depends on which browser and country you are living in.  Perhaps this feature is being ‘dark launched’ in each location without the usual formalities of announcement and worldwide presence.

http://www.keenobservers.com/3724/google-instant-search-unveils-but-google-instant-not-working/

Another question is whether Microsoft’s Bing be able to keep up with this development.    Clearly this capability is placing a massive load on Google as serving up all this additional information requires processing power and bandwidth.

Instant Search may mean that Retailers may need to adjust their Search Engine Optimisation strategies, providing shorter site summaries for rapid consumption by customers.  Retailers may also need to raise the bar for Site Search on their own websites.   Will retailers be able to adopt InstantSearch–style capabilities for their own sites?


Life After Facebook?

As Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member”

I recently set myself up with an account on Facebook, having previously restricted my activities to work-orientated sites, such as LinkedIn.  I had followed social networking from the sidelines until this point.  However, I have been very aware of how social networking has profoundly changed the way that we interact on the web.  I decided it was time to try it out for myself.

I have watched Facebook’s meteoric rise over recent years. During that time it has seen off competitors such as Bebo, MySpace and FriendsReunited and managed to find its own distinct niche alongside Twitter.  The speed at which Facebook  has achieved market dominance in social networking is even faster than Google managed to dominate internet search.

Having joined the social networking movement quite late, I decided on a “total immersion” approach and visited several other social websites to experience the breadth of options available.  I was also keen to get a sense of what might be coming next.

New social websites are constantly springing up based upon interesting ideas.  I have seen specialists, such as the location-based, FourSquare, the questionnaire-based Hunch and even open-source rivals such as Diaspora.  It will be interesting to see if any of these can these seriously challenge Facebook.  However, perhaps the biggest enemy of Facebook – is itself.

Facebook could begin suffer as it travels through the adoption curve, moving from being a new idea to part of the Establishment.  In time-honoured fashion, the young people tend to leave when their parents (and grandparents) are joining the same website.  There is evidence that young people are leaving Facebook and their fastest growing demographic is now the over 55s.  There is a serious problem that Facebook could become ‘un-cool’ for the new generation over the next few years.

Even if this does not happen, we are likely to see a gradual splintering of social networking.  This happens in many new markets as they mature and develop new business models.  It is difficult for Facebook to remain “all things, to all people” under such pressure.  We could see the generalists rivals take back market share, while other members defect to niche players with specific communities.  Perhaps the biggest indicator that Facebook is on the wane is that ‘late-adopters’ like myself are now joining.

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UX Article/Interview on developing Mobile Apps

UX Mag has a good Interview with the developer of Red Laser and the process they went through for developing the mobile retail app. It has some interesting insight on augmented reality.  There’s also an audio version of the interview on the same page if you are interested in that format.


GameStop Educates and Excites Their Managers at Conference

Just before the Shop.org conference is beginning, GameStop has hosted it’s Manager Conference at the Mandalay Bay conference center two years in a row.  After researching this a bit, I found that it’s a pretty interesting way of getting their store managers knowledgable in the latest products, human resources management, theft prevention and other topics.  GameStop brings’s in about 5,000 employees for the event, which is mostly paid for by the game production companies. 

To educate their employees, they have sessions created and presented by GameStop, as well as vendor specific sessions that are presented by the various game and hardware manufacturers.    The expo’s presentations are created by publishers directly for an audience of store managers, who will return to their GameStop stores and promote the upcoming titles.   The exclusive access these store managers receive is a perk that few other retail employees receive. 

Beyond the educational benefits, attendees are given swag including full versions of games, signed autographs from celebrities in the industry and other cool toys. 

Anyone know of other retailers that do this?

 


Shop.org 2008 Las Vegas is getting prepared

Shop.org registration booth being setupI’m in Las Vegas for the Shop.org 2008 conference. It looks like it’s going to be a great conference with the keynotes and sessions that are lined up this year. The CEO & President of Borders is kicking off the first keynote, followed by the author of Wikinomics, Don Tapscott. The first session of the day after the keynotes has four sessions I would like to attend; Emerging Retail Technologies, Natural Search Tactics for the Retailer, Selecting the Right Solution Provider for your Retail Operations: eCommerce Platform Selection Case-Study, and Social Media And The Reluctant Retailer. I’m not sure what I’ll end up with.

One thing I’ve noticed that I’m not excited about it the number of sessions led by vendors. Shop.org has been very good in the past about focusing on retailers giving the presentations and this year seems like they’ve taken a 90 degree turn. There are still quite a few retailers presenting and lets hope they keep a tight hold on the vendors from pitching their wares for the hour.

The show kicks off Monday night. If you are at the show, drop me a note and I’d love to meet up with you.


Benchmark at HP Labs

It’s been a long few weeks on the road lately.  I’ve spent time in New York and Boston visiting customers and analysts, and I just wrapped up a week in Cupertino, CA at HP Labs benchmarking the Ecometry product for high load web traffic and order processing.  It was one of those test scenarios where nothing seemed to go right.  We had a dozen or so problems with configuration, Fedex servers failing and various other issues.  Late in the week we got everything working and got some good numbers.  The office is going to continue to benchmark from Delray and try to get more data points with different configurations on the 3 node Oracle RAC.

HP has a fantastic lab and was kind enough to give us access to their top of the line systems.  They have a giagantic XP SAN with I think it was 172 TB’s of storage.  We had a set of three large Itanium servers to run a 3 node RAC Oracle config on and used about 16 app servers to pump orders in via web and interactive interfaces. 

I snapped some quick shots of the lab and some of the Superdome systems they have available in the lab. 

 

Next week, I’m off to Vegas for Shop.org!


Tracking offline conversions & Google’s improved Flash indexing

I came across these two blog posts and thought they were worth sharing. 

Avinash Kaushik wrote a great post about tracking offline conversions at Tracking Offline Conversions: Hope, Seven Best Practices, Bonus Tips.  I interviewed Avinash last year about his book in this post – Q&A with Avinash Kaushik, Author of Web Analytics: An Hour A Day.

 

On Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, they talk about their latest improvements in indexing Flash content in Improved Flash indexing.   I still wouldn’t use a great deal of Flash for an e-commerce site, but it’s good to know that they are making progress on improving this area.


Tips on creating content for e-commerce email campaigns

I was going through my email this weekend and had these emails come through from Newegg.com and Circuitcity.com.  Which would you click on and engage with?

circcity email newegg email

For me, I know it’s the Newegg ad.  It provides more insight to what the sale has to offer and there’s more to intrigue me to go deeper.  The Circuit City ad just tells me they are having a sale.  Being that’s it a holiday weekend, I know every retailer out there has some sort of sale, so it doesn’t do much for me.

(continue reading…)


171 Starbucks Visits in 24 hours


I’ve been addicted to espresso for some time. One in the morning and one in the afternoon to get that burst at the end of the day. I just came across this video where a guy visits all 171 Starbucks stores in Manhattan and purchases and consumes (at least part of) something at each visit. It took him nearly 24 hours. I thought that it’s appropriate with the recent news that Starbucks is closing 600 stores and taking a charge of ~$350 million.


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