Tapping into the longtail

6 10 2008

How many of us have walked into a store searching for, lets say, a cell phone and have been overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of options you have? How many of you have found THE exact product you were needing or looking for in a quick simple direct manner?

I believe that to tap the market value of the long tail, companies should also modify their proposed costumer experiences to match the vast quantity of data and options against the perceived value of their costumers. In other words: give your users the tools to find exactly what they were looking for in record time and without hassles or doubts.

The principal variable to be adjusted against the new inventory volumes posed by the long tail is the “findability” aspect of a site. Generally costumers mindset can be classified in three categories, which I would use as basis of experience designs: people who exactly know what they are searching for (e.g. a set of features or a specific model), the ones who know they need a certain product but haven’t worried about the details of the search and those who are lurking the store (“Thank you , I am only looking”).

I am a lurker, what’s in for me?
Online stores should all have a way of attending this type of costumers and helping them find out what they might be interested in or otherwise let them lurk the virtual storefronts.

How can one assist a costumer who doesn’t know what she is looking for? For starters, make sure that she understands what can be found in your store (“No, madam, we do not have ringtones around here, though we do sell cellphones”), and then, if interested, help her vocalize her needs and goals as a costumer (“what will you be needing your cellphone for? will you be a first time user?”)

I know what I am looking for but I am clueless over the specifics

Once her needs and goals are identified, and the overall store offering has been presented; help her identify product aspects which she might find useful (“we have simple cellphones to be used for communications only, we have others that have several futures that can help you organize yourself using a single product”). Once established a plausible universe of products assist her on matching the product features and variables against her current needs and expectations (expected value, perceived value, core features vs secondary features, unnecessary features), to narrow down the offer to those products that better match her desires.

I know what I want, now what?

Make sure your store has the ways and means to enable your users to search your inventory and once presented with it rapidly select the product which will be most close to her needs. On the web you will find several techniques attending the “findability” issue, but the most interesting one is the faceted search approach, by which you will not only offer your users several products aspects by which they can narrow down a result, but will offer them the means to mix those aspects at the same time therefor accelerating the time it will take them to find the products that best match their needs and goals.

Remember: The filters (facets, categories, variables) by which your store can be sliced and diced without doubt depend o the kind of objects you manage (vehicles <> personals 🙂 ) and the kind of information your audience is used to manage.

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