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#4.13: The “Let Your Customers Do It” Issue

1> Amazon: Let Your Customers Write Your Catalog
2> eBay: Let Your Customers Stock Your Shelves
3> Plastic: Let Your Customers Write Your News
4> Check It Out: Stinky Condiments

1> Amazon: Let Your Customers Write Your Catalog

Amazon doesn’t just have a huge selection of stuff to buy; customers rate the products and freely discuss what they love and hate about them. The writers, all amateurs, get no payment other than the opportunity to see their name in lights. And if they write enough good reviews (which are themselves rated by other shoppers), they get a special graphic bug next to their names. On the one hand, it’s an excellent involvement mechanism that builds customer loyalty. On the other, it builds a database of information that Amazon wouldn’t have the authority or resources to create itself. And best of all, it costs nothing except setting up the web site in the first place.

THE LESSON: Your customers know more about your products than you do. Save yourself a lot of work by letting them write your catalog for you.

2> eBay: Let Your Customers Stock Your Shelves

Think eBay is a commerce site? Not really. Technically, the whole thing is just one big editorial database. Sellers post their merchandise and potential buyers respond. eBay itself adds nothing but the software that lets vendors talk to customers — for which it takes a cut of every successful conversation. eBay doesn’t carry inventory and doesn’t ship anything. It just enables transactions and collects money. Sweet. Not every company can pull this off — but think about whether you’d be making more money selling your own products or letting others sell through your web site. The fee you charge to merchants may be more that the profit on your own sales.

THE LESSON: It’s better to own the marketplace than the merchandise. Sellers take the risk, you get the profit.

3> Plastic: Let Your Customers Write Your News

Web sites Slashdot, Source Forge, and Plastic are all successful news sites — without anyone on staff to write the news. The three sites, which all use the same underlying software, attract passionate and knowledgeable readers because they know they’re in the company of other passionate knowledgeable readers. Those readers write the entire content of the site, voluntarily and without pay. The sites’ product is the community, and it’s the community that builds the product. What’s more, the sites’ software allows the content to be syndicated widely, so the material on the site is also read by people who don’t necessarily have to visit.

THE LESSON: Passionate and committed people attract other passionate and committed people. Give them the tools to express themselves, and they’ll build your site for you.


4> Check It Out: Stinky Condiments

When is it time to clean out the fridge? Use Gary Dryfoos’ excellent “Table of Condiments That Periodically Go Bad” to find out!


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