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105M Tablet-Owners in 2015

Chart originally found on InternetRetailer.

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Why Storytelling Matters in eCommerce

You’ll often hear marketers talk about ‘fluffy’ concepts like ‘making an emotional connection’ to consumers and ‘telling a brand story’. But how much do these things really matter? Does storytelling really create value?

The Significant Objects Project, does perhaps the best job of illustrating the impact a story can have on perceived value. The project was an experiment designed to test the hypothesis that “narrative transforms the insignificant into the significant.”

In short, NY Times columnist Rob Walker and author Josh Glenn bought 100 unremarkable garage sale items, and then had creative writers invent stories about the objects. The hypothesis was that these items, when paired with stories, would acquire measurable value. They tested this hypothesis by posting the items + stories on eBay.

The results were overwhelmingly conclusive. In sum, the addition of “stories” increased the value of the items by 28x on average. The objects originally cost a total of $128.74, but were sold in total for $3,612.51 on eBay when paired with stories.

Some great examples of the types of objects sold include this Missouri shotglass (bought for $1, sold for $76) and this rooster oven mitt (bought for $1, sold for $51.99).

Now, elaborate fictional stories are not always necessary. Bear with me for this thought experiment.

See the zebra bust below. How much would you be willing to pay for it?

Now imagine I told you:

“Layers of upcycled cement bags were covered with vintage French book pages to create this handmade, papier mache zebra head. If you look closely at the white stripes you will be able to see pieces of a story.”

Now how much would you be willing to pay? How much does just a little bit of storytelling matter to you?

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Happy Valentine’s Day

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Curation Alone is not Enough

In the online world, the glut of content available has created an opportunity for new start-ups to create value through curation. “Curation” has become a very popular word. 9 out of 10 consumer-facing start-ups will include it somewhere in their pitch. In theory, curation picks up where search isn’t adequate — e.g., if you don’t know what to buy or there are many similar items, search can yield more results than it’s possible for the human brain to handle.

Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice, does a good job explaining the perils of choice overload:


“As Americans, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress.”
As does this Bing ad:

So the solution would appear to be curation, and hence a litany of start-ups have formed.

Don’t be fooled though, curation is not new to retail. In the brick-and-mortar world it’s called merchandising. Given limited floor space, retailers need to decide what finite set of goods they would like to present to shoppers.

In the online world, novelty has been added to the tried & true practice of curation by creating platforms that enable anyone to be a curator. This has obvious appeal, as it allows a company to scale without bringing on additional staff. However, in a model where anyone can be a curator, I would argue that curation alone is not enough to drive purchases.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an example of a successful retailer in the brick-and-mortar world that relies on merchandising alone to drive sales. Large retailers like JCrew or Abercrombie & Fitch spend millions of dollars on marketing to provide shoppers with context — to make an emotional connection and explain what their brand stands for. The context brands provide can help give you social validation and make you feel more comfortable making a purchase. On the flip side, not “knowing a brand” causes uncertainty, and often is a reason for not making a purchase.

I’d argue that many of the ‘social commerce’ start-ups that are out there today do a good job of entertaining users by stringing together pretty or interesting things, but will have a hard time driving meaningful transaction volume because the curators lack context.

Curation without context is OK for entertaining, but not as effective when it comes to shopping.

While I may appreciate the aesthetic of a curated experience, without understanding who the curator is and why they chose specific items, I am unlikely to buy. Purchasing is a much higher bar for users to cross.

We’re experimenting with context + commerce at @pickieco. Time will tell whether I’m right or not.

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Minimum Viable Review: How to Launch Cheaply at SXSW

The Smarketplaces/Pickie team is planning to attend SXSW this year. It will be the first trip to SXSW for all of us. As such, I’m always interested to read blog posts from veterans on how to get the most out of the experience.

I just found a great article by Larry Chiang. Check it out here: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-launch-your-startup-at-sxsw-for-only-217-2012-1

In full disclosure, he’s generously offered 12 start-ups a free demo table for reviewing his blog post and we’re hoping to be one of the 12… but the article is really good and worth sharing regardless of the incentive scheme.

In summary, we all stand on the shoulders of giants… Larry encourages cash-strapped boot-strapping start-ups to be creative, and to leverage the events that are already organized (and paid for by others) to hold “mini-events”. He also encourages start-ups to do pre-parties (pre-SXSW events) and parties when there is a lull in SXSW programming. Lastly, he suggests it’s more important to build SXSW karma points than self-promote. I agree with this wholeheartedly. No one likes to be sold. It’s much better to build relationships at these types of events. For more thoughts in Larry’s words, read the article I linked to above.

And if you’re going to SXSW and interested in connecting shoot me a note on twitter at @ssahney, the Pickie team would love to meet up!

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Clean Apartment, Clean Brain: Things to help you get organized

In my last post I wrote about how studies show the average person wastes 4.3 hours per week searching for papers, which adds stress and frustration to life.

As part of my new year’s resolution to squeeze every drop of productivity out of my day, I’ve been working to keep my workspace clean and I’ve also worked to de-clutter my tiny Manhattan apartment. Here are a few things (all are the exact items I own) that have made my apartment measurably less cluttered.

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Clean desk, clean brain

Albert Einstein's Desk

I’m not a neat & tidy person by nature. I have a tendency to push piles of papers around my desk or kitchen table, and create bigger & bigger stacks of paper rather than file things or throw things away. In the past I’ve never felt too badly about the situation. After all, there is proof that great minds can function perfectly fine with somewhat messy desks (see Albert Einstein’s desk above).

However, these days there are more things to do than there are hours in the day, so I’ve been looking into productivity boosters. In doing some reading, I found data that quantifies the amount of time the average person loses due to clutter:

According to the National Association of Professional Organizations, paper clutter is the No. 1 problem for most businesses. Studies show the average person wastes 4.3 hours per week searching for papers, which adds stress and frustration to the workplace while reducing concentration and creative thinking. The average executive loses one hour of productivity per day searching for missing information. (from reliable plant.com)

Yikes. In retrospect, I know I lose time searching for things in my apartment. I don’t doubt that I am close to the average. So one of my (many) resolutions this year is to reduce the clutter in my apartment and my workspace.

There are many blog posts that have given advice on de-cluttering your workspace, here is the process advice that I found most useful (mostly dealing w/ paper mess): What’s Wrong With a Messy Desk? Tame the Monster

In summary the advice is:
1) really want to improve
2) keep toss or move
3) start with the oldest
4) evaluate each piece only once
5) ask yourself, do I really need this?
6) be ruthless, be brave

And equally importantly, here are a few things to help you stay organized:

Hope this helps others who might need help getting organized, or getting motivated to get organized.

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Ode to Amazon Memes

Around the holidays I often think of my former employer, Amazon. Any retailer is an exciting place to be in Q4, Amazon especially so because it is growing so fast and taking over the world.

One of the things I loved most about Amazon is the quirkiness it promoted from employees and embraced from Amazon customers. In that spirit, a number of products have sparked the imagination of Amazon customers and inspired creative customer reviews, healthy debate, music video tributes and more. A select few have been widely propagated through the internet, achieving meme status. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few of my favorites that I find entertaining and thought I would share. In reverse order:

3) Badonkadonk Tank: 256 customer reviews

Yes, you really can buy anything on Amazon, including a rare land vehicle / battle tank. This originally retailed for $20k or so, but sadly it’s now out of stock.

Excerpt from the manufacturer:

The JL421 Badonkadonk is a completely unique, extremely rare land vehicle and battle tank. Designed with versatility in mind, the Donk can transport cargo or a crew of five internally or on the roof

Sample review:

This tank R-O-C-K-S! Literally- the 400-watt sound-system keeps me rockin like a crazy man as I’m dishing out justice commando style. Wow. I just can’t say enough. And the kids love it, too- imagine the look of terror in the eyes of the enemy as I’m dropping off my kid’s team to their soccer game. Shock and awe, my friends, SHOCK AND AWE!

2) Wheelmate Laptop Steering Wheel Desk: 597 customer reviews

According to the product description the wheelmate can be hooked to a car steering wheel to provide a laptop desk for the driver. As if the road weren’t dangerous enough with make-up apply-ers and text-ers. Customers had a field day with this product, taking time to upload 126 of their own customer images in addition to commentary. Here’s a sampling of the customer images:

While I was at a red light, the guy to my left drove by at 30 mph using his laptop and his cellphone. Checkit.

Wi-Fi is as easy to access as if you were in your house or place of business.

The desk did come in VERY handy for filling out medical and legal forms. It's also got a stain-resistant surface that's easy to clean.

Best customer review:

You wouldn’t believe how much more interesting my commute is now that I have something to do other than just stare out the window! I’m using it right now to post this review and I never

1) 3 Wolf Moon T-shirt: 2,047 customer reviews

This is hands down the most famous Amazon meme. This seemingly simple shirt went on to be the #1 best-selling apparel item in 2009 in terms of revenue and units. The craziness all stemmed from a customer review written by Brian Govern, a bored college student from Rutgers.

An excerpt:

This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that’s when the magic happened. After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to ‘howl at the moon’ from time to time (if you catch my drift!).

The meme also got a shot out on The Office:

In case you were still debating whether or not the shirt is worth checking out, here’s a quick summary of the main points from B. Govern:

Pros: Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women
Cons: Only 3 wolves (could probably use a few more on the ‘guns’), cannot see wolves when sitting with arms crossed, wolves would have been better if they glowed in the dark

You can check out my clickable collection of my favorite Amazon memes with links to the products at pickie.co:

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Rituals make brands more Memorable, Sticky

I’m currently reading a book, Buyology: Truth & lies about why we buy.

The book analyzes a host of factors that drive people to buy. One of the more interesting factors mentioned is rituals.

I hadn’t realized how powerful rituals can be in creating brand differentiation. Nor did I recognize how many brand rituals I was actively participating in. Examples of brands that have integrated rituals successfully include Corona (put the lime in the bottle & flip it), Reeses (how do you eat your Reeses?), Oreo (twist apart before you eat), and Jagermeister (drop Jager in RedBull to make a Jagerbomb).

Rituals provide a sense of comfort and belonging, and ritual-seeking is said to increase in times of stress. In addition to the mass consumer rituals I’ve mentioned above, you may have created your own rituals around brands. When you’re stressed out do your brand preferences become more pronounced? I myself am more likely to consume certain beverages when I’m under pressure (I’m fiercely loyal to Diet Mountain Dew because I believe it gives me extra energy, thanks to the early 90s Xtreme Dew campaign). While individual rituals are interesting, brand rituals that have gained traction with the masses are even more interesting. Brands with associated rituals benefit in many ways (loyalty, differentiation, etc).

It stands to reason that consumer tech companies can also benefit from rituals, but I struggled to think of good examples of rituals being used to establish brand differentiation/loyalty. Tech companies traditionally haven’t spent a lot on brand marketing, the returns on brand marketing can be nebulous and often require major budgets to reach the masses. But done right, you can only imagine the power rituals might have.

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Social Validation as a Shopping Driver

This fun fact is from Smarketplaces CPO Ryan Weber — Empirical evidence shows that an item with a low (1-star) rating is more likely to sell than an item with no rating. This is somewhat counter-intuitive, logically the worst rating an unrated item could get is 1 star, however evidence shows that people would rather buy an item that someone has tried and hated than an item that no-one has tried at all.

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