At the very core, there’s no difference between a medieval marketplace and Amazon.com. They both serve the same purpose: to be a place for sellers to present stuff to people looking to buy stuff. What differs is size, access, mobility, and payments. Out of these four, only mobility and payments make our lives easier: we don’t have to travel back and forth and we don’t have to carry the stuff we bought. And we don’t need cash at hand. As far as the other two are concerned, they confront us with a complexity we can’t cope with. The incentives and stimuli directing our daily lives become increasingly complicated and varied. As a result, we depend more and more on automated stereotyped behavior: subconsciously registering things in our brains and automatically act accordingly. We’d go pretty nuts otherwise.
So here we are as sellers in this global, online marketplace with access to virtually every human being on planet earth with an Internet connection and money to spend. The entire process, from sales to fulfillment and payment can be handled by the marketplace. In the near future, 3-D printers instantly produce your goods or robots pick your goods in the warehouse where you rent space, and drones deliver it to your customer’s doorstep. Sounds just great.
We can also still load stuff in our truck, drive to a town’s marketplace, pay for our spot and set up our market stall, and start selling. Some market stalls attract few people, others are crowded. Why is that? First and foremost, the seller is able to attract a crowd, usually by yelling and performing in a theatrical way. If what the stalls sells is good, people will return week after week. But the seller never stops his performance to attract people. The market seller knows that his or her stall must be crowded. Why? A crowded stall provides social proof and jump starts our automated stereotyped behavior.
A crowded market stall tells people that it must be a safe place to buy from. It also tells people the deals must be good, since lots of people are buying. We like to use other people’s brains; it saves us the effort. On the other hand, if the crowded market stall sells nothing that we are particularly interested in, we don’t even bother and at best just remember there were lots of people. In the Amazon world, our screens are yelling at us about the trending and the popular stuff. Just like the medieval merchant in the marketplace, our screens scream for our attention. Social proof is provided by peer reviews.
So here we are as buyers in this global, online marketplace with access to every seller on planet earth with a website and an offer on sale. And we are lazy. Amazon wants to be the global one-stop shop. Instead of searching the Internet for whatever product we’re looking for, we can turn to Amazon and find the items we want. One giant marketplace with lots of competing sellers and easy to find the stuff we’re looking for. Today, May 14th, 2017 I visited Amazon’s website, looked at the grocery department, searched for Candy & Chocolate and discovered 59,669 items. I can’t deal with that number.
What the yelling market vendor and Amazon have in common is that both understand human behavior and know how to trigger it. However, at a marketplace with, let’s say, 25 competing market stalls, you have to yell very loud and give an extraordinary performance to attract people. As a buyer, you keep eyes and ears open and follow the crowd to the best tomatoes you’ll ever eat. What’s the chance (y)our voice is heard online? Sure, it’s never been easier to have a voice online. Millions are. Again, what’s the chance our voice is heard?
The bottom line of what I’m conveying is that insight into human behavior is key, regardless of what you’re selling. Deep insight into human behavior allows us to understand customer preferences, and come up with triggers -actuators of behavior, and even with predictors of human behavior. We have the technology readily available. But not often the full, deep insight from immersion into the other.