Let’s say you have a problem or a need or a want, and you’re sure there is product somewhere in the marketplace that would help. You Google, and a handful of web sites pop up that offer promising solutions. But obviously you don’t believe anything you read from vendors, so you check for online reviews. Then you wonder if the favorable reviews are planted by the vendor, and the bad reviews are planted by his competitors. Can you trust reviews from anonymous strangers?
You ask your coworkers and friends if they have ever used the product that you’re interested in, and no one has. What now?
Shopping is broken.
How much more stimulated would the economy be if the people who have money, and are willing to spend it, could be reliably connected with the products that they desire?
What the world really needs is some way to connect you with the people who already use the sorts of products you want, and are willing to answer an e-mail or two about the topic.
About a year ago I had surgery to fix my voice. The information on the Internet about that particular surgery was outdated and didn’t address my questions. The only way I could become a consumer of that surgery was by communicating directly with people who already had it, which I did. And since then I have answered questions for dozens of people who have the same questions that I had.
Likewise, as my wife and I make a zillion decisions for the home we are building, we prefer products and solutions used by people that we have spoken to personally. The Internet is virtually useless for any of the hundreds of product decisions we have made so far.
And what about choosing a destination for a vacation? You’re much more comfortable if you have spoken to someone who visited the same place.
The obvious problem with connecting past consumers with potential consumers is that while people are generally helpful by nature, no one wants a million e-mails asking how they like their new can opener. So how do you strike the right balance?
Imagine a system that works like this: When you buy a product, you agree in advance to answer up to four e-mails from future potential customers, beginning no sooner than one year from when you make your purchase. It’s totally optional, but agreeing gives you access to people who already bought the product you’re considering today, to help you make your own decision. It would strike you as a fair deal.
For privacy reasons, this imagined system would disguise your e-mail address. And the system would have to be administered by some third party, not the vendor selling the product, or you wouldn’t trust the strangers giving you advice.
Maybe you have a better idea for fixing shopping.