Big data and a better customer experience?

Probably the most basic use of big data in online reselling is collecting and interpreting data on what people buy in order to offer other customers a better service (and of course to sell more items to them). Unfortunately not all resellers implement this the right way, offering customers a confusing experience instead of an enhanced experience.

Many websites selling products try to improve your shopping experience by showing you products other people also looked at or bought when they looked at or bought the item you are (thinking of) buying. As a customer I can definitely see the benefits of this service and I also have some reasonable ideas about what to expect.
Other people also looked at implies that when deciding whether they would buy the item I am looking at right now, people also looked at the other products being shown as possible alternatives for this item. If for example I’m looking at a book called Learning Spanish in 30 days the ‘Other people also looked at products’ should be titles like Learning Spanish Fast, Easy Spanish etcetera. For me as a customer this makes sense; I’m looking for a book on learning Spanish and I probably will look at a number of related books on the subject in order to make the right choice on what to buy. Other people did the same before me, so why not make it easier and show me what they did?

Unfortunately this is not what all websites do, some of them literally show everything other people looked at, even if they are unrelated to the product in a logical sense. So in the case of the Spanish in 30 days book they may also show titles like Living with cats or How to grow your own Pumpkins if that is what other people looked at. Although this reflects reality in the sense that people really looked at those books, it doesn’t make sense for me as a customer: I want to see only products other people looked at which are logically related to my item. So if I’m looking at a book to learn Spanish, show me only products directly related to learning and Spanish whether these are books on that subject or other related products like audio courses, dvd’s or even a language course in Spain. But don’t show me products which make no logical sense at all, just because other people happen to look at them.

Other people also bought implies that when other people decided to buy the item I am currently looking at also bought one or more other products in order to complement this item. For me as a customer this could be very helpful; I want to buy something with may need some other products in order to work (better). Other people bought this item before me, so why not look at what they did?  So if I’m buying an Android tablet and I see other people also bought some cables and a protective sleeve this makes me think about whether I also need these items. Maybe the cables are not included with the tablet so it would make sense to buy them.

Again this is not how all websites implement this and again some of them show you every product other customers bought even if they are logically unrelated to the item you are (thinking of) buying. So in the Android tablet case a Barbie Doll might be shown. And although this reflects reality (some customer shopping for gifts bought a tablet and a doll), this certainly does not help me as a customer (on the contrary). For a reseller this one is the most important to get right; if offers the opportunity to sell extra products and makes sure the customer has everything he/she needs.

These are simple but common examples of a lazy -or not well thought of- use of “big data” which in the end will hurt your business more than help it flourish. Although the basic idea is right, the devil is in the details. Don’t get blinded by technological possibilities, but keep the customer experience in mind. It this case it would suffice to think back to the good old days of physical shopping; would you rather go to a store where the salesperson shows you unrelated products just because someone else looked at them (Salesperson while you are looking at a big screen TV; “I had a customer interested in this TV who also looked at that top of the line microwave over there” ) or bought them (Salesperson while you pay for your TV: ”I had a customer who also bought this terrific and durable refrigerator” ) or would you prefer a store where the salesperson shows related products (Salesperson: “Take a look at this model which can do more for the same price”) or gives you sensible options when buying something (Salesperson: “Do you need a connection cable or batteries -not included-?”).

Although Internet may have changed the face of reselling profoundly, it hasn’t changed the underlying rules regarding the best customer experience.

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