Posted by: rolfsky | May 3, 2007

what happens after you have everything?

I have cats. The cats are prone to tearing around the house at 3am if they do not have free access to the out of doors. Therefore, I need to install a cat door. This morning, I was shopping on Amazon for a Bosch Jigsaw (they have an excellent price on them) and as checkout time came around, I saw an offer for 20% off various blades and accessories. Clicking in blindly I was presented with a huge list of bits, blades, hole saws and other cruft. Though I waded through two dozen pages attempting to refine my search, I finally decided that it’d be better to just go to my local hardware store where I could select from maybe 10. Amazon droped 2,380 on me at 24 per page.

Amazon obviously had “everything”, or at least a number approaching everything such that I was unable to comprehend the opportunity or make a selection. Frequently in finding discussions at eBay, we come across the issue of “findability” and it’s no surprise that Amazon would have the same issue. When you have everything, how do you sell it?

Traditionally, we will give users tools to help “refine” their search by restricting to a category or certain price range. Doing so is effective if the options themselves for refinement don’t overwhelm our customer. Where do we start helping them out? A broader take on this picture is what happens when you have everything and everybody else has everything too? Suddenly, your “selection” is no longer a differentiator as everything is brought to everyone via feeds, APIs and services. Now what?

Let’s return to that word – “selection”. Google’s top two definitions are:

  • choice: the act of choosing or selecting; “your choice of colors was unfortunate”; “you can take your pick”
  • an assortment of things from which a choice can be made; “the store carried a large selection of shoes”

  • We see here two slightly different forms. One describes the act, one describes the objects upon which the act can occur. Embedded in these two definitions, we have an implication that a selection of items is the result of the act of selection. Unfortunately, in the second definition, the selection is referring to a case in which no choice has been applied as it encompasses all items in the set.

    The third definition sheds a little more light on what will happen after everyone has everything:

  • choice: the person or thing chosen or selected; “he was my pick for mayor”

  • When anybody can get you anything, suddenly your value proposition takes on a different bent. Instead of being the conduit through which the user can make the selection themselves, your value lies in creating useful or interesting sets.

    Which sell better: blank greeting cards? or the ones with kittens and a message with “hang in there” printed inside?

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