Do we shop in data deserts?

Mark Hurst, founder of customer experience consulting firm Creative Good and the amazing Gel Conference, wrote about his experience shopping at Williams-Sonoma recently.  Judging by this photo he posted, there’s a real shortage of information — what he called a data desert.  (And I’d say Mark has nice taste in cookware!)

What’s missing is data. Look closely and you’ll see that several of the pots have no label below them. Others have no price. And, this being a retail store, there were no customer reviews. I also had no way to compare Le Creuset to other brands, and no way to understand which product type – copper? cast iron? steel? anodized? – would work best for me.

And I was standing alone. No one at any time approached to offer help, even though I was circling the cookware section. (This might have just been a momentary lapse, as I’ve seen helpful staff on other visits.) Overall the store lacked information on its products – call it a “data desert” – which led me to pull out my iPhone and open the Amazon app.

Within two minutes I had read a half-dozen customer reviews and compared prices. The skillet was a good choice, and as it turned out, Amazon was $10 cheaper and offered free shipping. A couple of taps later I had ordered the skillet from Amazon – and avoided standing in a checkout line. As I walked out, I couldn’t shake the thought that within a few years there might not be a Williams-Sonoma store across from Central Park.

This is maybe less of an issue in grocery retail … for now.  For the higher-priced items that supermarkets love to sell in order to increase basket sizes, there’s no doubt shoppers will shop around.  And it’s really easy to do that today, more than ever.

Can supermarkets add something that online stores can’t?  Advice from an in-store chef or nutritionist, an iPad with beauty product tips, or — Amazon-style reviews on the shelf like what Mark suggests?  Maybe?

It’s catching up with retailers like Best Buy and Williams-Sonoma who sell big ticket items, and I’m sure that with the advent of grocery delivery services like Peapod, FreshDirect, and others, it’s coming to grocery too.  There’s a big opportunity to create a data oasis for shoppers.

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