Do Retailers Really

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2006-05-29 Print this article Print

Want Their Customers Getting the Best Products?"> Lets now get into the business realities of this situation. The retailers clearly do not want their customers getting the best products out there. Retailers are content with letting consumers choose the best products from the handful theyre offering at the moment. This raises a branding question for Chin. When I started looking into Guidester, I was impressed with the sophistication and the thinking—and the programming—that went into their database. But I found the results on various major retailers to be humorously disappointing.
For example, I visited TigerDirect, which was one of the sites that Guidesters PR had suggested I hit. The test I did was searching for camcorders. The first question asked—without further context—was if I preferred to have the best technology. Sure, who wouldnt? Suddenly, that single answer reduced my choices to two models. I then answered that I considered myself a "novice or intermediate camcorder user." Boom! The system had narrowed down my options to the one ideal camcorder already. Not bloody likely.
I then tried the same camcorder search on CompUSA, which was another suggested site courtesy of Guidester PR. (I mention that they recommended it so that you dont think I sought out the weakest of their retailers. These were their showcase retailers.) Hell hath no fury like a consumer chipped off, so e-tailers be forewarned before you start disrespecting your customers. Consider what an unhappy Wal-Mart did recently in Texas. To read more, click here. CompUSA lets me get to a third question, but when I said that I wanted to be able to create high-definition video, it gave me a window that said it had zero products that matched and asked me if I wanted to undo my answer. If I then agree and lie about my answer, why would anyone expect its recommendations to be on target? Consumers only see this e-commerce database on various retail sites, and if their experience is as, well, nauseatingly awful as the camcorder searches were, wouldnt that start to weaken Guidesters brand reputation? When that question was posed to Chin, he said he wasnt concerned and pointed to surveys—from unspecified sources—that showed how happy consumers were after using Guidester on various retail sites. That may be true, along the lines that someone in the 1960s would be very satisfied with a mainframe computer, as long as that person didnt know about far more attractive computing options. Consumers today are starved for the kind of product-selection-assistance info that Guidester is selling, and they are happy for whatever help they can get. That doesnt mean they wouldnt be a lot happier with far more information. Retail e-commerce execs need to have a lot more respect for their customers and for themselves. They need to respect their customers by giving them full access to unbiased data about the widest range of products possible, in the way that many car Web sites provide extensive unbiased comparison information about rival cars. The retail e-commerce execs need to respect themselves by showing that they know that they consistently choose the top products to sell and that a comprehensive product comparison database will show that to be true. They may not offer the best products every time, but by treating their customers as adults, they will win more sales. is a great example. People know that they are offering the identical books (and other items) as elsewhere, usually for more money. Whats a key difference? One fascinating difference is customer comments about products, including many that are not flattering to those products. A company less enlightened than Amazon would have said, "Theres no way were going to use our Web space to show comments that criticize the very products were trying to sell." But Amazon knew that by being fully open and transparent, it would make them more credible and sales would result. Think of the lessons that Macys learned in Miracle on 34th Street. As a practical matter, consumers will likely flock to the retailer that offers the full unabridged product database that Guidester offers. Enlightened self-interest can be a wonderful thing. Evan Schuman is retail editor for Ziff Davis Internets Enterprise Edit group. He has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop anytime soon. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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