Yesterday I made an online purchase after seeing an ad on one of my social media channels. It felt good to have a reputable recommendation made for me to find a solution to a problem I was having. The product had great ratings, and with the help of Amazon it will be here today…less than 18 hours after placing the order. Feeling that rush of endorphins, I shifted my attention back to work and went about my day.

As I mentally prepare for the delivery of this new iPad screen protector that will undoubtedly change my life (read: I’m a privileged person), I have realized that this transaction likely took place without a single human interaction. My search history had been riddled with questions about how to have a better Apple Pencil experience when writing on the iPad, so it’s no surprise that this information was harvested and used to promote some solutions to my “problem.”

There was no pilgrimage to a storefront, I had no discussions with a shop owner about my needs or their expert recommendations on the best solution to my problem, and perhaps most importantly I was robbed of a positive interaction and professional relationship. I blindly trusted the consumer reviews.

We did not evolve to make purchases (tangible or otherwise) from behind a screen to be produced by a stranger, delivered by a stranger, and insured by a foreign entity.

Consumer reviews are great - don’t get me wrong - but let’s call a spade a spade…the consumer review section is simply a platform for out-of-touch consumers to broadcast their experience more so than a review of the product itself. Why should I trust the opinions of Dolores in Wichita or Franc in Montreal? I don’t know them, their temperament, or their general understanding of the topic at hand. For all I know, they’re bots.

Consumer reviews have replaced the general store-front model where I can receive skilled recommendations directly from a shop owner, arguably the individual with the most to gain from ensuring I leave satisfied and happy. Prior to purchasing in-store, we would cover the warranty (perhaps even filling it out together before leaving the store), payment plans, delivery options, and of course the niceties exchanged between two individuals trusting one another with the exchange of hard-earned money for a quality product and/or service.

As a millennial, I can certainly appreciate the flexibility and convenience of online shopping. Add to that the concern for our health and safety in the midst of COVID-19, and it seems online shopping wins out by a landslide.

But does it?

The vast majority of regrets I have surrounding purchases are the ones made without any connection to the manufacturer, the brand, or the individual(s). That doesn’t mean I believe that items sold online are of lesser quality than those I can get locally. But I do believe there is something innately human about exchanging goods and services that requires a personal connection in order that we might walk away feeling satisfied. So how do we combat the impersonal tendencies of online shopping?

If my Amazon order shows up damaged, I go through a series of prompts on the website to provide them with details about the issue, whether I want a refund or an exchange, and then ultimately I am provided with a return shipping label to return the item back to them. Once returned, I get a deposit made to my credit card and life goes on.

On the contrary, if I show up at a local store with a faulty or damaged item, I am going to be face-to-face with a person who can empathize with me about the situation, who can offer support and assistance, and who will ultimately reassure me that we will get this sorted out.

I would feel heard and seen, and that is what customer service is all about.

Note: Obviously, this is not always going to be the case because we are human and sometimes we are a little grouchy, but the point here is that human interaction simply cannot be replaced by algorithms or mailing lists alone.

When we shop, we are not strictly buying a product/service; rather, we are exchanging money with an individual or a brand that we have built trust with to perform a service or to produce a product.

At a minimum, even if we do not trust the person or company quite yet we are most certainly taking a risk until we do. Sure, when we are in a pinch and it is some mundane product like toothpicks, it can be prudent and even practical to order it online to save you a few minutes from wandering aimlessly up and down the aisles of a big box store. And who cares...they're toothpicks, right?

But in our hyper-specialized world where doctors can’t change the oil in their own vehicle and teachers can’t do their own taxes, is it really that surprising that we could use the help of someone who knows more about the subject of whatever we are purchasing than we do?

So let me tie this all back to marketing.

The job of marketers is not to simply tell you in 200 characters or less that you need something. It’s to start the conversation about problem solving, helping you reach your goals, realizing dreams, etc. But that is not the entire conversation. Try responding to the ad and see how you’re treated. Do you feel heard or seen?

Do not rely solely on consumer reviews. Experience the brand you are engaging with for yourself…what does Dolores really know about it anyway?

As a reminder, you are not obligated to make a purchase to experience a brand. Call, email, stop by, text, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter DMs…there are countless ways to connect directly with a company in order to ensure you are fully clear on their products/services. If you have a bad experience…guess what? You can go elsewhere.

Marketing, promoting, advertising…it’s all a dance.

A company’s responsibility is to establish a high quality product/service and build a brand around it.

A marketer’s responsibility is to transparently communicate who a brand is and to build brand trust.

It’s in your best interest as a prospective client to treat these two responsibilities as separate but connected. A marketer is amplifying the brand’s voice and products/services by bringing them to your attention, but are they doing so ethically and equitably? Did they buy up mailing lists to blast thousands of people with information about their client’s products/services? Are they being truthful about the product?

A company is producing a product/service, but what about their employment practices? Where do they produce their products? How do they treat customers? Do they stand by their work?

In addition to asking questions about the product/service, ask about things that are important to you like your ethics and principles.

By choosing our go-to online shopping platforms, we are effectively tasking ourselves as consumers with the responsibility of reading every review, researching every brand, and blindly trusting that everything will work out. All due respect...that's impossible.

Let’s choose to work with people within our networks as often as we can. I guarantee you will appreciate having a specialized “interpreter” standing with you when the time comes to make a purchase, guiding you through unknown territory and answering your questions. You will walk away feeling supported and content about the money you just spent and the products/services you will receive.

Know your are an individual, not just someone's target market. You deserve transparency.

Published on:

Wednesday, May 5, 2021