[Warning: emotional ranting ahead. Proceed with caution.]
Apparently I was not the only who was annoyed to have received one of Restoration Hardware’s ridiculously over-the-top catalog collections. This monstrosity weighed in at about three hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and it was all I could do in my advancing years to hoist it in to our recycling bin. Which is where it went directly from our now sadly sagging mailbox. It did not pass Go. It did not collect $200. In fact, in the wake of this display of hideously bad judgement I have vowed never to set foot in a Restoration Hardware store again.
Not that I ever set foot in a Restoration Hardware store before.
And this is the one encouraging thing about this incident: despite all the on-line tracking and sharing of personal information that goes on behind the scenes in modern commerce, the fact that Restoration Hardware could get it so horribly, horribly wrong with respect to me indicates that there is some hope of maintaining some privacy even in today's world.
Still, having to throw out seventeen tons of unwanted catalogs every year seems like a high price to pay, so I have a modest proposal for marketers on how to find out what I want: ask me. I'd be happy to tell you. In fact, Google and Amazon have already figured this out, which is why they are kicking everyone else's butt. I (obviously) never get a catalog from either Amazon or Google, and yet I always go to one or the other when I want to buy anything nowadays besides groceries. Why? Precisely because they don't send me catalogs. They are like old-school domestic servants, never speaking unless spoken too. But when I want something they are always immediately available to give me exactly what I want, even in those cases where I don't know exactly what it is.
So listen up, marketers everywhere. Here's how to get my business:
1. First and foremost, leave me the fuck alone unless I solicit you! Do not fill my mailbox -- either physical or email -- with catalogs or flyers, and especially do not try cheap (or, as the case may be, not so cheap) tricks like sending out monstrously huge catalogs or putting your ads inside envelopes that kinda sorta look like they were sent by overnight mail but obviously weren't. The more you try to get my attention, the more I will resist you.
2. When I do come to you (and I will) make it easy for me to find shit. Yes, I get that this is a tall order. There's a particular style of headboard that I've been looking for for years. I know it exists because I saw one once, but I have never been able to find one since. If you are a purveyor of headboards, all that stands between you and having me as a customer is figuring out how I can communicate to you what I want and then having you find it for me. Yes, I get that this is not easy. There are a zillion styles of headboards out there. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it already. But here's a suggestion: I have a photo of this headboard that I'm looking for. I could send it to you, and you could unleash an army of mechanical turks to browse your inventory and find a match. AFAIK no one does this. But this is just to illustrate the aphorism that there are no problems, only business opportunities.
But even in the face of such challenges there is still a ton of low-lying fruit that isn't being picked. For example, every now and then I buy a new digital camera. Figuring what the current state of the art is in terms of features and price-performance is a nightmare. It should be technically straightforward to build a site where I could enter what I'm looking for in a camera (good image quality and as much optical zoom as I can get in as small a form factor as possible) and have it figure out which models I should be looking at. Same goes for cars.
Every single camera and car site I've ever seen gets this wrong. The first question a car site asks me is invariably "What make of car are you interested in?" I don't know, God dammit! If I knew that, I'd be going straight to that manufacturer's site. I'm a childless-by-choice male on the perpetual brink of a midlife crisis, so I want a small, sporty car with two doors, four seats, and a nice balance of performance and economy: not too pokey, but I don't need to break the world record for going zero to sixty either. Oh, and I want it to be blue. Or maybe red. Yellow is nice too.
(Right now I drive a Hyundai Genesis Coupe, which is the perfect car for me except that the transmission is pretty awful. )
All this really boils down to one rule: I want to do business with vendors who treat me with respect instead of like a mark. It really is that simple.
Here endeth the rant.