The future of B2C.

I've spent a lot of time over the last 7 years trying to figure out what B2C might look like when we get it working with some degree of adoption. And it bugs me in a major way that we still seem so far away.

Example: here's one simple scenario. Let's say I want to buy a relatively old bust of Napoleon for my study. I know that somewhere in an antique store in Melbourne, there has to be at least one. The question is how do I find it? I don't know how many antique stores there are in Melbourne, but I'd guess a hundred or more. Am I supposed to call each of them in turn? Why cant I Google their combined inventories? They probably have their inventory stored in an electronic format somewhere already, in an Excel spreadsheet, an Access database, or a Word table even. Why aren't they exposed to the web, at least for searching? How do we get them there? How do we build a significant value proposition for these small businesses that they want to post their inventory up online and keep it up to date?

Forget about even buying it online - I'd be happy, for a start, to know what they have to sell. Sure, I prefer buying online to buying from real people most of the time… don't tell me I am alone in this. If I have a choice between "email for information" and "phone for information", I'm usually going to use email. Better still if I can process the transaction real-time, but hey, small steps.

It bugs me how few bricks and mortar businesses have even bothered to collect my email address in the last 7 years. I think I can count them on one hand. If I wanted to count those that asked for my email address and then did something useful (to me) with it, I could count those without using my fingers… because it is zero. Why is that? It still floors me that I can walk into a store, spend BIG money (well BIG for me anyway), walk out again, and they don't even try to find out a little about me so they can stay in touch. Heck, I would love them to take an interest. I am way too busy to keep abreast of all of the cool things people have to sell me that can make my life better in some way, and I really wish they would find ways of communicating their wares to me in a meaningful and relevant fashion.

Back in '96 I built a simple website for my local video store. I said to the manager "Alan, from now on, every time a customer borrows a video, you ask them for their email address. If they don't have one, you give them one of these Ozemail ISP starter kits (no points for guessing where I worked at the time…). And then once a fortnight you send them out an opt-in email with the new releases and tell them if they want to book one for Saturday night, they only need to reply to your email. Within a few months he had 10,000 email addresses.

Why don't other small businesses bother to do something like this? Why don't they care enough to capture my details and communicate with me in a relevant manner? Hey, I might even do business with them again in the future.

Last Xmas I had to do some late shopping for my family, and I dropped into a store in the building where I worked and within 15 minutes spent $1500 on gifts. Nice gifts. When I left the store, they knew nothing about me except my credit card number. Six months later they went out of business.

So I end up spending more and more time and money buying on Ebay. The people I buy from don't know anything about me either, but they probably know more about me than the average store does… they can look at my Ebay profile to figure out whether or not I have been a good customer in the past…. and at least I can research stuff from the comfort of my study. Lots of Napoleon busts out there to be had. :-)