In the 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds, author James Surowiecki explores the accumulation of information within groups. The results, he argues, are that better decisions are made by groups than could have been made by any single person.
The proof is alive and kicking in retail. I’ll give you a real-time example. Last weekend, I needed to buy a new toaster. I was really specific about what I was after (four slices and red), in case you’re interested. After spending a fair bit of time researching, I jumped onto Argos where I was blind-sided by no less than 172 choices for four-slice toasters. It was getting late. Things were not looking good.
Then I took a closer look, Argos was sending me messages about one particular product.
It had apparently been bought by 54 other people, liked by 402 others and rated 4.5 stars. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me I thought. Mind made up, I clicked, sent to basket and paid.
There are a few things happening here, which I think moves the personalised marketing targeting debate on.
Remember, it was late and I had hundreds of product choices. Back in the day, I would have asked friends, had a nose around their kitchens before going to shop. In these digital days, I guess I could have played with the search filter – looked by ratings, by price – but that’s a frustrating and clunky way to make a decision, and I’m time poor.Instead, the messages that I was seeing drew the old and the new worlds together.
Argos tapped into my basic human need for approval. I needed to know that I was making the right choice. It’s no different to the millennials taking 'chelfies' (that’s changing room selfies, people…). We’re all looking for a virtual thumbs-up from someone – anyone.
By building a picture based on the behaviour of millions of shoppers, Argos was able to boil the data into a simple message to tell me that other people had bought that toaster too. And that gave me the confidence to click ‘buy'. Back to James Surowiecki and his crowd power. I couldn’t agree more. The crowd made the decision for me.