Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Long Tail

For months I've had The Long Tail on my reading list.

After reading several glowing reviews on Game Tycoon (a great blog about, roughly speaking, the business of video games run by my friend David Edery) I finally bumped it up to the top of my list. I'm glad I did.

If you have even a passing interest in: participatory culture, user-created content, 'new' economics and want to keep your finger on the pulse of what is driving the leading business thinkers these days, I highly reccomend it.

After reading, I attended my first meeting of the Montreal Business Book Club as this week The Long Tail was on the menu.

One of the points that came up in the meeting was whether we (the book club participants) had any examples of Long Tails in retail. We tossed around a few ideas and then moved on.

An idea I had while reading the book, further percolated in my head during the meeting and is partially hinted at in the following comic (borrowed from Chris Anderson's afore-linked page).

So, what if a service like the Internet UPC Database really took off and started to approach a comprehensive listing of products whose names were properly formatted.

It would be a simple matter then to use the digital camera embedded in most modern cellphones to snap a picture of the UPC of any product in a brick-and-mortar store. Use the UPC database to look up the details of the object, then from there, use the name and product information about the object to search amazon (etc) for said product.

The benefits I see to the consumer? Sometimes you just need to (or want to) go to a regular retail outlet -- try on the item of clothing, get a feeling for the weight of the tool, etc. Once done, though, if time is not of the essence, real savings can be had by purchasing said item from an online retailer. Armed with your cellphone, you could snap a photo of the UPC and quickly see what said item was priced at across a variety of online stores. If the savings was significant enough, you could complete the purchase on the spot and head home, reducing the potential of buyer remorse (given that you were able to try the item IRL) and helping to ensure you were getting the best deal.

Some stores already do something similar, but limited to their own inventory, of course. A system like this would give the power to the consumer and, theoretically, be general purpose enough to work regardless of the store in question.

How does this connect to the comic? Well, a 2.0 release could focus not only on the transactions, but also on the reports of other consumers regarding said product. Not sure which peanut butter to buy? Scan the barcodes of all the options and the tool could automatically spit out user reviews for you.


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