This is an unabashed plug for our industry – but nevertheless perhaps a little insightful. 

Here we look at the world of Product Finders – those self-service apps that help us buy the appropriate product.  Not the best or cheapest, but the product that suits our needs.   

We use applications on the Internet to book travel, to checkout restaurants, get news, follow friends and celebrities – I can go on.  This is the world of “Self-Service” where we use apps instead of a travel agent, reading a newspaper and calling a friend.

For those who seek advice, their preference is determined by convenience, transaction costs and the availability of expertise.  The latter’s significance grows with the dearth of people to get good advice from – whether that’s a store clerk, a travel agent, or a nearby friend and neighbor to help you solve a problem.  These factors increasingly favor self-service.

There are two new reasons for the growth of self-service: the sheer complexity of certain decisions, and personal preference.  Which TV to buy, what airline route to take, and which of the 303 different baby car seats sold at Walmart should I buy?  Those decisions are often beyond most humans to advise on. 

The importance of personal preference is growing rapidly.  You find it in cosmetics stores where, usually, you can seek help from a flawless clerk.  Shoppers often prefer to not disclose their issues to that kind of person – especially in a “perfect” place.  And then there are the places where perceived intimidation occurs – for example premium car dealerships.  In both those locations, a growing number of shoppers prefer to go to an in-store kiosk and pose the same questions to an app.

But, I hear you say, why not just Google everything?  Try typing “What Mercedes should I buy?” – 28 million hits, or “What’s the best life insurance?” – 77 million hits.  It is more akin to mob-sourcing now, or dealing with very biased sources. 

Our Product Finders – part of our Simply Select range – succeed because we simply (sic) ask shoppers how they intend to use the product and to list their constraints – no product knowledge required.  In other words, we act just like a knowledgeable salesperson.  And we are agnostic.  We had to teach our customers that shoppers could smell bias, so you can’t use Product Finders to take care of a product over-supply. The acid test: do shoppers the next morning feel like they had enough knowledge to make the right purchase.  If the answer is yes, everybody wins.


Dr. Thomas A. Poynter


Simply Interactive Inc.