Shopping is broken. In the fifties, if you wanted to buy a toaster, you only had a few practical choices. Maybe you went to the nearest department store and selected from the three models available. Or maybe you found your toaster in the Sears catalog. In a way, you were the hunter, and the toaster was the prey. You knew approximately where it was located, and you tracked it down and bagged it. Toasters couldn't hide from you.

Now you shop on the Internet, and you can buy from anywhere on the planet.
The options for any particular purchase approach infinity, or so it seems.
Google is nearly worthless when shopping for items that don't involve technology. It is as if the Internet has become a dense forest where your desired purchases can easily hide.

Advertising is broken too, because there are too many products battling for too little consumer attention. So ads can't hope to close the can't-find-what-I-want gap.

The standard shopping model needs to be reversed. Instead of the shopper acting as hunter, and the product hiding as prey, you should be able to describe in your own words what sort of thing you are looking for, and the vendors should use those footprints to hunt you down and make their pitch.

For example, let's say you're looking for new patio furniture. The words you might use to describe your needs would be useless for Google. You might say, for example, "I want something that goes with a Mediterranean home. It will be sitting on stained concrete that is sort of amber colored. It needs to be easy to clean because the birds will be all over it. And I'm on a budget."
Your description would be broadcast to all patio furniture makers, and those who believe they have good solutions could contact you, preferably by leaving comments on the web page where you posted your needs. You could easily ignore any robotic spam responses and consider only the personalized responses that include pictures.

You can imagine this service as a web site. The consumer goes to the section that best fits his needs (furniture, cars, computers, etc.) and describes what he wants, in his own words. Vendors could set key word alerts via e-mail or text for any products in their general category. Once they read the customer's needs online, they have the option of posting their solution, publicly, which gives other vendors and consumers an opportunity to offer counterpoints.

I assume this service already exists in some weaker form.
www.answers.yahoo.com is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't broadcast your needs to vendors. My prediction is that Broadcast Shopping (as I just decided to name it) will become the normal way to shop.

(Note: I am not using this blog post to solicit suggestions for patio furniture and toasters. Those were just examples.)

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Dec 6, 2009
The "Recommendations" forum on boardgamegeek.com is pretty successful, although the game recommendations are given by peer users, not businesses.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 24, 2009

A rabbit-rich world is a lettuce-poor world, and vice versa.
Now when we speak of an information-rich world, we may expect, analogically, that the wealth of information means a dearth of something else—a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes that attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

Herbert Simon (1969 !)
Nov 20, 2009
Yahoo answers isn't structured enough, and ebay's Want it now hasn't worked because they don't publicise it. Also, you cannot get directly in touch, only post your item and then tell them about it. Its obvious as e Bay would lose the listing fees and commission otherwise.

For small stuff, probably C2C but for bigger stuff it works very well and could level the field in terms of big media spend outgunning the small but competitive sellers.
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Nov 20, 2009
I'm with mcory. No one should ever point Yahoo Answers as a solution to anything. That cesspool of ignorance is just annoying enough with its high google rankings, hindering all my practical searches.

Please, Scott, don't support Yahoo Answers!
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 19, 2009
eBay's Want It Now service sounds like what you're describing:

...but it doesn't seem to have taken off at all. I suspect that sellers would find it too labor-intensive to have to chase after each individual sale like that for small-ticket items.
Nov 18, 2009
Sadly, marketing and advertising don't really care about this particular problem. The purpose of marketing and advertising is to give you an emotional reason to buy something you don't need or want. They want you to make purchasing decisions for purely emotional reasons. If consumers were encouraged to shop analytically, it would drive down profit margins.

Also, If you could quantify all of a toaster's features and had a public service that made all the necessary comparisons, it would be clear that only one manufacturer made "The Toaster" that fit the sweet spot in terms of features, durability, style, and price.

All other manufacturers would be harmed by participating in that system. That one manufacturer, however, probably would not make "The Waffle Iron" that everyone would want, and therefore wouldn't want to participate on that site, either. And the corporate big-wigs might not even realize that their company made "The Toaster" to begin with.
Nov 18, 2009
I would assume that your censored word MarketWa tch contained the possibly dodgy word t_w_a_t. What a load of bollocks this software is!
Nov 17, 2009
Go to Amazon and sort by "highest rating."

Or, go to Sam's or WalMart and select one of the 3 products they have determined is the best bang for the buck.

This works for 98.265% of purchases. For items that are exceptional in price or importance, then take the time to read some actual reviews and do some actual research.

life is hard.
Nov 17, 2009
This already existis in the UK on findsyou.com. All they have done is turned the whole thing upside down. Base the whole thing on demand, and protect the shoppers, then make it automated for the sellers to make it easy for them. Its so simple that its a wonder it hasn't been done before - it used to be just for the uber rich and companies, but now available to us mere mortals.

This can only get bigger - search was a novelty once but now its the same people whio crop up all over the place
Nov 16, 2009
Some times I think the seeing the real thing is the key to sucessful shopping. Pictures and descriptions can only go so far. Nice words and well posed items can distort the true appearance.
God forbid the curse words "some assembly required" should appear.
Another thought, maybe less and money should go into marketing and more effort into making products that last and perform as needed. We really need fewer items that really work well.
Nov 16, 2009
In Spain there is a service like that. A kind of social network with information about local providers accept your petition, they contact with verified local companies that could do the work and you receive an estimate.
The public can give opinions about the companies so if they cheat you, they get out the business.
This is a recent service and I found it very interesting. I don't know if it's copied from another one.
The web is 11870.es

Greetings from Spain!
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 15, 2009
This from a guy who can't fix his blog software cuss filter to allow the word 'cir c u mstances'.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 15, 2009
I can see this working for chasing down medical care.

I really hate having to go through a book of providers and pick the one doctor I think would suit me. For once, I want a doctor to do it. Put old Rex Morgan M.D. in front of a listing of ads and hear him say, "Let's see...This potential patient is 40-is, balding-ish, slightly mental, and has emerging health problems. I'd be a perfect fit for him!"

I also think this approach might work for Congress. Imagine being able to type the following into your "Potential Politician and Practical Plebe" website:

"Wanted: Individual interested in representing the persons of this state. Must have aversion to lobbyists, kickbacks and slush funds. Is directly focused upon the issues. Places loyalty to country above loyalty to party. Promises to not attach earmarks to unrelated legislation, a.k.a., the "Get-Rid-of-Pig-Smell" project in the last federal budget. Being an honest lawyer is an advantage."

Hmmmmm....I guess that's one Broadcast Shopping ad that will go unfilled......
Nov 14, 2009
The problem is you think this would solve your needs. Sellers would be out to sell you something (which suits their need) regardless of how well (or poorly) it suited yours. They'd try to convince you they had what you needed, but you'd end up still having to wade through a mountain of verbiage and lies and likely you'd end up buying something that wasn't really what you needed because of (factor unstated) or dishonest dealing.

Ultimately, I don't want to provide a mechanism to enocurage vendours to try to pimp their products to me, and neither do you. Of course, being Scott Adams, you might have some sexy intern to root through the endless options and find you the one you'd like based on your stipulations. But for most of us, we'd just get the personalized equivalent of spam... and lots of it.

What you really need is just good consumer reporting sites that compare lots of things, provide pictures and good specifications, as well as reviews pointing out this or that advantage *and that are not paid for in any direct way by the sellers*. If you could get this, you'd have exactly what you need - a place you could go look up a range of toasters, compare them, and read some reviews and the reviewers might actually clarify a lot of things that would suit your particular situation.

Of course, you can always construe some oddball scenario where your needs are so odd (I'm in one right now trying to find a laptop table that will fit on my mom's very narrow power chair) where nothing you find, even after a lof of research, will solve your problem - so you end up having to get a custom construction. Such is the way of the world.

Another option would be a service of 'finders'. You'd go there, describe your article, describe the comission, and the 'finder' would do the rooting around for you in the hopes of winning your commission. Your good might cost a bit more, but you should find the good that suits your needs without doing the search yourself. A company providing 'finder' services could actually work with somebody like Google to develop smarter searching tools and Google could work with the manufacturers to make product data available in some commonly accessible formats (something like XML or the like which could then be torn apart by many tools in different ways).

I think the Finder Service(TM) would be the way to go, rather than encouraging vendours to pimp you crap you don't need and that wastes your time. I think that's all your plan would result in.

+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2009
Rarely do I say to myself "i really wish that a whole bunch of salesmen would deluge me with emails trying to sell me things".
Nov 14, 2009
it's called "mass customization." we (as in "general society") have been talking about this for years.
Nov 14, 2009
First, huge props for trying to come up with a solution for a badly broken system.

My only whinge is that the Yahoo Answers model is less than useful - just about every "favorite" answer I've seen looks like it was written and selected by drunken lemurs, to use a relevant term. I'm afraid most of my responses would be worthless suggestions and robotic spam for unrelated products. While I agree that "You could easily ignore any robotic spam responses", my fear is that it would be like trying to stop Euroclydon with an outstretched hand.

That said, something different needs to happen if shopping online is to continue profitability, and something of this nature might work if appropriate controls were built in.
Nov 14, 2009
Sounds a lot like ServiceMagic.com, which pretty much works as you describe for home repairs. We use it fairly often.
Nov 14, 2009
One process which can go along way to solving the broken shopping experience is the interstitial reverse auction.

When a user commits to buy a product from an online retailer such as Amazon.com they think they are getting a good deal, however it is impossible for them to survey all available retailers and to gauge the determination of other retailers to get their custom. This information imbalance is almost a fundamental tenet of economics. However, if given the opportunity at the point of sale another company with the same product would offer a lower price rather than make no sale at all.

A third company, if given the chance, might offer an even lower price based on their geographical proximity to the buyer (which provides an advantage through low shipping cost) or their specific inventory characteristics (low turnover for a specific product).

If given the chance companies can compete not for customers but directly on the underlying economics of the sale for which they have maximal information. Each sale will become a low-bid process with the customer, in effect saying, "Here is a guaranteed amount of money. Who will offer me the product I want and take the least amount?"

The implementation of this is not easy to say the least, you need a client installed on your machine waiting for you to make a purchase, and a server ready to mediate the transaction and auction between rival resellers. An installed program or browser program would be required.

A second approach to your problem unfortunately requires overcoming the gift-giving problem. There are two ways to give a good gift. 1. Give someone what they've asked for or 2. Give someone something you know they'd like. 1 is easy and has been done ( amazon wishlist / wedding registries) 2 involves deep personal knowledge of the life and preferences of you.

While I'm confident that a system that knew enough about me could guess at what I need/want, the problem would be getting me to input all the relevant details. Who do I trust enough for that? Initially, why would I invest the time to input all that data if it didn't reap immediate rewards?

Do-able but hard.
Nov 14, 2009
So having more choice is a problem? There are two solutions:
1) become an expert on the subject and you can easily identify the best product for the best price.
2) just pick a product that seems ok and never look back. You only regret a choice if you see a better choice later.

Your proposal has a small problem: this is what your ad looks like to a vendor:
"I want something that goes with a Mediterranean home. It will be sitting on stained concrete that is sort of amber colored. It needs to be easy to clean because the birds will be all over it. And I'm on a budget."
"I want any product. It will be sitting on a flat surface that has a color. It must look like it is easy to clean. And tell me it is a bargain"
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