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Articles: On the shared experience

One of the most significant byproducts of the growth of the Internet has been the availability of data. Huge oceans of data available to anyone who cares to dive into it.

From the online shopping perspective, this means shoppers have been able to use any data point (price, shipping options, location, number of rebates, etc) to effectively "sort" online retailers - they get to define the success criteria by which retailers will be compared. This has effectively created a race to the bottom of every possible success criteria. Wanna make sure you're at the top of the (real or imagined) price column? Better have the lowest price. Oh, you better offer free shipping to cover that base too... What about rebates? How many of those can you shove in there?

For the longest time the (arguably) most important aspect of shopping - the experience - has been completely missing from the equation. Sure, pricing engines, forums, newsgroups, etc have been around for years, but research is time consuming and most niche communities are product focused. Determining what it's like to actually do business with a company is left to searching through comment strings or Google results. The barrier to finding relevant feedback on retailers wasn't terribly high, but just high enough to make you think twice about the trade-offs.

Thankfully things have been changing. The rise of Social Media and its perpetual connectivity means sharing your experience (or listening to the experiences of others) has never been easier. Hated your experience at the Outback? Your friends will savor every unbearable detail in your blog post. Or maybe toss that new trendy clothing store into a Twitter search and see what other folks are saying about it, then ask them if they'd shop there again - right now.

Social Media has fundamentally lowered the barriers for learning about (and thus incorporating) other people's experience into your "retailer success criteria", and quite frankly we couldn't be happier about it. Sure, price is still important, but filling in the rest of the picture before you make a decision is just one "What are you doing?" away. The importance of the experience has reached critical mass and retailers need to be listening to you. We do, here with our article blog, through, and on Twitter. You're always welcome to share all the good, bad, and ugly details with us (and everyone else).

We really encourage everyone to participate and share their experiences because sometimes the people most likely to share things online are the grumpy, sometimes unreasonable ones. We all love to let people know when things don't go our way, and in the beginning of a movement of this type - when only a small percentage of people participate - those voices are out of proportion to the real experience most people encounter. And while companies need to hear the complaints, if there are hundreds more people who were delighted but don't bother to share (it's a lot easier to get riled up about a bad experience than be delighted enough with a good one to take the time), then the grumpies sometimes have a little more voice than they should. After all, those shopping decisions would be much easier for everyone if 100% of a company's customers posted their comments, so the closer we can get to that, the better!
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