Product discovery is not solved online

Reflecting on his Christmas Shopping Benedict Evans posted this tweet yesterday:

If “retail-as-discovery” is a problem for consumers it is an opportunity for entrepreneurs, and it’s one that we’ve invested in heavily over the last twelve months. The best examples are, perhaps, Thread and Stylect which help men discover new clothes and women discover new shoes respectively, but many of our partner companies are in the business of helping consumers discover and buy new products and services.

One of the big differences between retail-as-logistics and retail-as-discovery is that with discovery there’s a much higher trust hurdle. The consumer doesn’t know what they want in advance and so has to trust that the product is good, that the price is right, and maybe that the retailer will deliver on time and handle returns well. The trust hurdle is pushed higher by the fact that many discovery items are high value – like shoes and mens fashion.

When designing to deliver trust rather than designing to deliver logistics the user experience is more about reassurance and less about efficiency. That needs to be reflected in site design, brand values, returns policies and just about every aspect of the business. The need for efficiency in logistics doesn’t go away, at least not very often, but it moves from being prominent in the value proposition to somewhere in the background.

Getting all this right is tough. But then if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Successful tactics include elements of human curation, striking visual design, and most importantly, a big focus on building great product.