computer shopping product discovery This article is inspired by my experiences over the last seven years with social media and marketing. It was further underscored by my colleague Dawn Kole who wrote recently about what marketer’s should do with social sites.

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

OK, maybe not that long ago. And it was this galaxy; this planet, in fact, where shopping became an activity that was no longer a necessity. It used to be that people went to a store to buy goods that were required for daily living. Not much shopping was involved, rather it was a quick selection of items from a very limited assortment. Shopkeepers would know what individual patrons wanted and would stock those items just waiting for the patrons to come in at their customary times, pick up the items and be on their way.

Within the 20th century, the shift of people into higher populated areas and jobs moving from rural to urban areas created the ability for businesses to aggregate and grow access to goods and services around centralized locations. The local store served many more people with varying styles and tastes. Close proximity of these styles led to people wanting to know know more about what was available and how to get different things for themselves.

If you go back 15 years ago, product discovery was something that typically took place offline. Shopping, by its very nature was a social activity usually convened by females and done in malls. Catalogs and other printed items might be viewed as supplementary means. Even television could provide a view into items that customers would want to locate and buy. To that end, it became incumbent on merchants to follow the trends, stock items and create a way to support product discovery – sort of playing off the old style of the local merchant who provide necessities to local patrons.

Now it is 2014 and the rise of big data, the evolution of the internet as a commerce channel, and the ability to link any and everything through social sites has completely changed the process of product discovery. Beyond just the typical sites that allow social networks to form and share information, a new breed of sites are gaining popularity based on how they use technology to parse the conversations and ferret out actual trend information based on key indicators. Example sites include Wanelo, Pinterest, and Ravesy.com.

By the end of the 1900’s (I say that for dramatic effect since we are well into the 21st century now) data, and the ability to transmit data electronically, led to the evolution of the internet as a commerce channel. People could now find anything they wanted with a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse. Access to this kind of information redefined shopping as we know it today.

Digging into one of these sites, Ravesy, it is clear to see that the dissemination of these mass amounts of information can be highly useful for shoppers.

Ravesy_Wanelo_Pinterest product discovery

They even use the tagline “We discover the trendy stuff for you”. That is important in this day and age of short attention spans and reliance on data. Ravesy, and other sites within its space,  monitor what everyone is talking about and boils it down to a small subset of information. They use algorithms and behaviors to really understand what is important. Ultimately this takes the burden of product discovery off of the merchants and makes it a democratic process. As these sites continue to emerge, create cleaner data and crystallize the purchase intent, they will become the de facto point for product discovery, to which merchants and customers alike will turn for trendy products all in one place. In the process, the information gathered will be useful to merchants to give them better insight as to how their products fare on the social web and in the conversations in a way that can be measured and tracked.

Some, or all, of this may seem far-fetched. Many thought the same thing when eCommerce first emerged. However, as data continues to proliferate and be more accessible, smart marketers and merchandisers will seek ways to use that data in order to spur sales and grow businesses. The convergence of the need for growth with the consumers growing demand for ideal products is the underpinning for continuous improvement in the shopping process.

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