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How Data Design Can Take the Pain Out of Purchases

5-19-2014 11-57-36 AMOwning new things is supposed to give us pleasure, but the process of acquiring them can come with pressure.

Eyeglasses, automobiles and certain items of clothing are on the short list of goods that can cause anguish in the aisle (or sales floor). So it’s not surprising that I’ve noticed a trend where merchants are trying to take the pain points out of shopping for “difficult” products, typically through online surveys that tailor the selection to the customer’s needs and personal style.

Among a few I’ve noticed: the eyeglass-frame maker David Kind, apparel maker Stitch Fix and the lingerie company True&Co all use technology, information gathering and the comforts of home to create a stress-free experience.

David Kind and Stitch Fix are bringing choice and personalization to the online retail space primarily through a concierge-like service. The customer fills out a form that narrows down style and preference, and the merchant sends suggestions. In David Kind’s case, the merchant sends a box of six different eyeglass frames to try out and then the customer returns them with his or her selection and a prescription.

With Stitch Fix, a stylist selects items for the customer based on her size, body shape and style profile, and she can keep or return what she wants (no shipping fee on returns). The more feedback the customer provides, the better the stylist is at finding clothes she will want.

True&Co does all of the above and then some. Like Stitch Fix and David Kind, it engages the customer with a similar kind of highly detailed questionnaire, but it also appears to be using the data gathered as more of a central factor in how it tackles the consumer (and business) challenge.

Not only does True&Co ask for very specific and of course personal information – given the product – but also it uses that information beyond creating and delivering a curated experience. True&Co uses its customer insights to help shape (sorry couldn’t resist) its product line, as well as what and how it manufactures products based on the insights and specific fit requirements shared by its customers.

True&Co is essentially applying the enterprise loyalty approach – using data to inform all aspects of the company – to an online framework. In doing so, it is extending the tried-and-true online model beyond “Here’s a product you may like, in an easy buying experience.” It is using the data to guide the entire customer interaction, and the business as well.

The web has reshaped retailing by allowing for convenience and the long-tail approach to product availability – accessing niche products that wouldn’t warrant shelf space in anything but a mega store. Now the next wave of the retail revolution and the web is upon us, and it may center on these kinds of customized experiences.

Soon, these sites could create an even longer tail by extending the application of customer knowledge to create product lines that break through the clutter and address unique customer needs. That would take a lot of pain out of the purchase, and business, process.

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