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The hidden value of things: when the comparison between vendors should go beyond price?
Author: Alberto CozerDate: November 10, 2010 - 10:31 PM PST

While online shopping has simplified comparing products and searching for something you're looking for, the services offered by the many different online shopping websites is pretty similar. What started with a list of prices for products and possible discounts has, for example, added a mailing list to announce the latest promotions.

Then when everybody had a similar mailing list, some sites started introducing a section with other customer's review for the products. Of course everybody copied this idea, as people usually do with good ideas. Then something else had to be invented.

Today when you shop online you will probably find recommendation of similar products. You get to see what customers that looked at the same product you're searching bought after that. This is certainly a great help if you're not so sure about that specific purchase. It also increases the sales for the website. But it's again one more thing that others are copying (or should be copying) and soon will be standard (if not yet). The same theory applies to services and pretty much everything else. It has always been like that in the real world and would be no different on the Internet.

The comparison is then brought to price. Who is asking less for the same product or service? You just put all the stores, websites, vendors or service providers in the same big basket without any real difference between them. All you care is price!

Some will offer free shipping; others will show you seals and endorsements to make you feel confident about your purchase. But you still deal with all of them without bothering to understand how they think and operate. And you do that for a good reason: they just do the same thing to you and you’re one more in the big basket of customers. They just care about your money and you just care about cheap prices! Ok, maybe you care about quality as long as the prices are cheap.

Although they may know your name, and give you a nice call on the week before Thanksgiving offering a special turkey dish, they don't know if you're really looking for a special turkey dish. Perhaps they don't even know if you celebrate Thanksgiving. They have your name and they know you purchased turkey with them before, but that's it. Any old database program from the 1980s could consolidate this information and come to the conclusion to call you and maybe you’re in the mood to buy turkey on that day. Any database system can help you do that.

These are systems that know what you shop and when you shop. Some add features to create pages or promotions with products or services similar to what you purchased before. I think it's about time for innovation once again. When I shop online now I am looking to do it fast, do it right at the first time and I am shopping for a specific reason. I want a website, a vendor, a service provider that thinks just like me and this will save me time. Time is money or if I cannot make money I better spend that time reading a book. This means I would pay more for products offered by someone that can save me time! That's the way I think. That's me. You may think differently and you may have a different way to approach your purchases or decide on a specific service provider. My wife on the other hand has a completely different mindset for shopping. She might want to buy something she doesn’t really need right now because it’s a good deal and she knows she will need it in the future. But that’s not all; the products must be well rated by a couple of magazines she trusts. She will also probably be less inclined to accept the offer if the offer is sent to her before noon. That’s her and that’s the way she thinks.

Wouldn’t it be nice if my favorite website or service provider could learn to think just like me and help me save time and avoid the cluttered webpages with hundreds of reviews, suggestions and information all over? I would pay more (but not that much more) for this added value. I would become a “frequent flyer” of such a company.

Business intelligence systems have been in the market for many years. These systems are very good at correlating basic information and producing reports that will help decision makers. Unfortunately they still lack the advanced correlation necessary to really define habits in a meaningful way, to predict that I will purchase a product or service that has just been released. Over time such systems would be so good at “thinking as I think” that I could even consider giving to these systems my credit card number and granting a monthly allowance to make the purchases for me. This would be what I want for BI (Business Intelligence) 2.0.

BI 2.0 must have “notes” of artificial intelligence in a pragmatic way. Personally I don’t want an artificial intelligence system to talk with. People are better for that. But if this artificial intelligence is able to make decisions for me and present me the logic that led it to choose and purchase a more expensive hard disk drive because it’s made in the USA and will help create jobs closer to where I live, then I see enough added value to look beyond price.

Making a system think like you is not easy. A lot of storage and processing power is needed and what some people today call “BI 2.0” is still far from the artificial intelligence notes required. But on the other hand storage is becoming extremely cheap and processing power continues to grow. Knowing where we want to get is good to define the path and on this path until we get to the final dreamed systems there’s a lot of room for product and service innovation. At the time we get to the final dreamed system and everybody is using the same thing then it’s time again for thinking differently from everybody else and innovating once again with different tools and systems.

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