A snow squall caught us driving back from New Hampshire today, washing out the Mass highway in a pre-spring whiteout. So we took refuge at a Borders. Man, the place has everything. And the bookstore also reminds us of how awful the internet still is in marketing to consumers.
You see, good physical retail design gives you thousands of communications you do not expect. The best of these are enticing — the book on meditation, the Seattle Coffee, the chocolates by the register that delight you but, hey, you didn’t really ask. The web, by comparison, serves up just what you want. Unfortunately, we self-absorbed consumers fall into ruts, RSS-feeding ourselves from the same 100 marketing or photography blogs, reading the same authors. The faint personalization web merchants can pull off is based on our history, which is the history of a ditch.
Ah, but now a real bookstore. In 30 minutes at Borders we discovered a new book by Chuck Palahniuk, Jack Kerouac on the Road, a display of chocolate, a naughty book on sexual positions, inspiration from Buddha, cooking, finance, concert DVDs by Clapton and John Mayer (parental mission to turn our kids into rock stars) … sure, we could find all of this online, but we would never think to ask, nor digest so much so quickly. The marketing worked too, because before we knew it we were out $98.57.
Personalization fails online because it hones in on our already narrowed interests. Amazon.com may serve up 40 or 50 links, but that is nothing to the 10,000 unique impressions in a well-designed retail space. We may search for marketing books, but perhaps what we really want right now is chocolate-mocha coffee.
The human mind was designed to take in and filter millions of stimuli each day. Marketplaces were once places that served up choices to fill our need to sort, to find, to delight in the unexpected. With the web, we’re still waiting.
(Footnote: Lest this seem too promotional, note to Borders executives — please call off the clerks from pushing the loyalty card. And the fact that your web site is missing in action and instead “partners” with Amazon … we know you gave up in 2001, but skipping the whole ecommerce thing just feels lame.)