This just in: Content sells!

Tiny, incidental mention in a story in the mighty New York Times describing academic research on the interaction of trust, price, delivery reliability, and the like. As we know from the real world (why is this a surprise online?), people don’t always buy on price alone. Some academics set up a trial wineselling site:

The professors said they decided to use wine in the test because most people lacked the knowledge to evaluate subtle differences in bouquet, flavor and body. They also did not know which wines go with which foods or in certain social settings. This lack of knowledge, Professor Ariely said, can make differences with satisfaction or regret over a purchase....

Eight sites were created, some emphasizing price, others emphasizing information to help select a wine. There were different levels of ease in comparing sites, some wiping out tentative purchases when a customer switched between sites, while others retained the basket of prospective purchase until the customer returned to either buy the wines or cancel the order. The professors also held wine tastings to gather more information. (The professors did not actually sell the wine but acted as a marketing agent for a licensed seller to comply with alcohol control laws.)

“We found with wine that if you give good information, consumers become less price sensitive,” Professor Ariely said. “They like the wine that they buy more, and they stay longer with the service that sold it to them.”

Like Professor Brynjolfsson, the Fuqua researchers found that information is most important in swaying consumers who are buying subtle or exotic products. When people shop for a product they know is widely available – Levi blue jeans, for example – price trumps everything.

With some difficulty (curse you, unsearchable, unlocatable, mysterious, impenetrable, unscrutable PDF!), we found the original research. (You can have a 100 K text or HTML version mailed to you. Details.)

“[A] well-constructed electronic shopping site can provide a vehicle for conveying non-price information related to quality that is superior to the comparable information that can be gleaned from shopping in conventional malls, catalogs, etc. [...] The consequences of better differentiating information should be like the effects of differentiating advertising.” Instead of sexy advertising, give us sexy content.

Indeed, the researchers describe as “well established” the proposition that “differentiating information can lower price sensitivity”: With more information at your disposal, price ceases to be the most important criterion.

Pretty obvious, huh? And indeed, our own survey showed that content provided by competitors (in this case, CD retailers worldwide) varied hugely in quantity but less so in quality. Do something different and you could own the market, though you’re still up against consumer inertia and name brands.

In truth, we’re losing interest in E-commerce content, since E-commerce (as we like to write it, “E$”) has been completely taken over by marketers, and they’re just not our kind of people.

Posted on 2000-10-28