In his 2015 tale of dating in modern times, aptly called “Modern Romance,” comedian and actor Aziz Ansari starts off by establishing a benchmark to understand whether technology influenced our dating lives for the better or for the worst. He does this not by interviewing the 30-somethings that his books cater to, but the senior citizens who dated long before you and I ever existed (and potentially are the very reason we do.)
Aziz quickly finds out it was a very different world back then. His interviewees married young, often after going out on a single date at a mixer and most remarkably; with someone from their direct vicinity. A 1930’s study of married couples in Philadelphia echoes that finding: no less than 1 in 6 recorded marriages were between two people living on the same block, and one in 8 between two people from the same building.
Studies like these don’t even take place anymore. And for a good reason – can you think of even one couple you know that are born in the same street together? As Aziz points out, the biggest game changer in all this has to be online dating. Nowadays, you don’t have to travel to other parts of your city or even the country to find your Mr. or Mrs. Right (or Right Now). Thanks to the internet, and especially mobile phones, it’s right there at your fingertips. Driven by surveys, swipes, data and algorithms, matching services are now responsible for close to half or all couples in the U.S.
Great! We’ve come a long way since dating offered a very limited amount of options. And let’s say you’re now one of the lucky ones to have ended up in a loving, caring relationship – regardless of where you met. Chances are that with Valentine’s Day looming, you’re wondering why it’s so incredibly hard for that same almighty Internet to take another sip of Big Data and recommend you the perfect present for him? The number of articles on Buzzfeed titled “Last Minute Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas” certainly seems to be testament to that feeling. (I’m saying “him” here because Google search data shows a huge overindex in searches around presents for him versus those for her. Maybe that movie should have been called “What Men Want” after all).
And it’s true. Most shopping websites still don’t do an even close-to-decent job of getting you from the homepage to that one perfect present we all know is somewhere there in the haystack. Instead, we’re offered everything but the kitchen sink with some “helpful” filters to sift through it all. Platforms like MrPorter.com have arguably done a better job by marrying timely content with the products they sell, but it’s still one-size fits all – tailoring pun intended.
This mountain of options triggers something that’s referred to in Behavioural Economics as the “Paradox of Choice.” While we as producers, marketers, and advertising folks tend to think that more choice is better, the opposite is almost always the case. Offering more options than necessary tires our already overloaded brains and, more often than not, results in us abandoning the shopping process altogether.
Fortunately, we’re seeing some really interesting developments that should provide inspiration to anyone selling things online: Facebook M and The North Face’s XPS. Both of these are rooted in Artificial Intelligence which was one of the key themes of this year’s CES as it’s evolving from a far-fetched dream to a near-future reality.
With its newly launched M, Facebook has taken it upon themselves to build a virtual assistant within Messenger that is truly intelligent. In fact, the bar is set so high that in its current version a significant portion of the tasks are still performed by humans. The aim however is to have all of this automated in the near future. Adding a date to your calendar, making reservations at your beloved’s most favourite restaurant, and …. finding the perfect present, M can do it all. And make no mistake, Facebook isn’t doing this just to be nice, as it obviously sees the potential of us turning to M instead of Amazon or Google for our shopping needs. A present for someone who you’re already connected to on their Social Network? No problem.
Another example of how Artificial Intelligence can thoroughly help turn chunks of data into personalized recommendations that should seriously increase conversation rates is The North Face’s XPS. Building on IBM Watson’s natural language processing ability, XPS asks customers questions to get to the right product quickly and in a very human way. Having a conversation with a website rather than clicking through many layers of filters truly changes the online shopping experience. And the more people use XPS, the better it’ll get at its recommendations; a win for customers and sellers alike.
Imagine answering a few questions about your significant other, potentially linking to their social profile, and having an online assistant spit out unique, personal recommendations on what to buy. Wouldn’t you just love that?
The senior citizens from Aziz’ study will fondly remember walking into a store and having a friendly clerk make personal recommendations based on what they knew about their customers. With an ever-growing amount of items to choose from, brands and eTailers alike should quickly start leveraging all we know about our customers and purposefully collect and use data in a more human way than we’re seeing now.
The more personal we get, the more we build relationships with customers that can withstand the test of time and whatever technologic and societal developments we still have ahead of us. And maybe, in 40 years, we might be sitting in a random room in New York, being interviewed about what it was to live in a time where you’d have to manually search for a Valentine’s Day gift, rather than having one delivered to you by an Uber after just thinking about it.