The welcome shift to context-based e-commerce

Des Traynor wrote an excellent article for .net Magazine called The death and rebirth of customer experience:

Customer service online has been relegated to “handling complaints”. Sites like to boast about how quick they can respond, but it’s rare you’ll hear any boast about what a great shopping experience they had online.

Online businesses are obsessed with user experience, optimisations, page rankings and much more. Yet a thousand of their customers could walk past their offices every morning, and they wouldn’t even recognise them.

In our quest towards total commerce automation, we’ve failed to bring the most important part of commerce with us. The customer experience.

The personal contact and connection that is needed to bring customer experience back to online retail reminds me of Dan Frommer’s thoughts on the intersection of commerce and editorial content. In Commerce as content, shopping through art he writes:

[T]he best wave of new e-commerce companies may also be the ones that are great content producers. That means: Clear writing, attractive photography, and good design. I haven’t done the math, but it seems to me that great content with devoted readers could be a heck of a lot more effective at generating sales than just buying banner ads on random websites.

He goes on to give some great examples of quality editorial content. Both these articles are indicative of a welcome shift away from product-based to context-based e-commerce.

Product-based e-commerce sees the product as the unit of measure, and the user experience is built around presenting products in the best possible light to convince a customer to buy them.

Context-based e-commerce sees the a customer’s unique situation as the unit of measure, and the user experience is built around delighting them based on who they are and how technology can help improve their lives. Quality, personal, context-based content serves as the bridge between product and customer.

Horace Dediu recently wrote about iCloud and, among other things, discussed what happens when “value moves from selling things to ‘getting to know you'”. That phrase is a perfect way to summarize this shift. In getting to know us, e-commerce sites can move away from just selling us stuff, and instead sell us ways to become better people.