i Fidelity: Human Interaction in the Cyber mall…
Online retailers like iTunes, Amazon and other music commerce outlets offer a lot of great new conveniences, but I wonder if one of the more unfortunate, and under appreciated, repercussions of the death of bricks and mortar record stores is the total absence of human clerks. At their worst (see Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity”) music clerks were a nuisance, snobby geeks who judge their customers with a hipper than thou sneer and unfriendly demeanour. But even that chill was a form of human contact. And, in the best of circumstances, music clerks can find the music you want based on you humming a line of a song or half-remembering the words. They were experts, keen students of recorded music who could steer you not only to what you came in for but could gently guide you to something you didn’t even know about. Well, that’s all done isn’t it?
What would a live online human “music store clerk” service look like, one that interacts with the consumer, online and by phone, in real time, to perform the old style music clerk function – perhaps without the attitude. The website would have knowledgeable articles, shopping tips and guides on the site but it would also have a phone number that leads to a kind of 1 800 “call center” with live “operators” standing by 24/7 to answer questions and steer consumer’s mouses to anything and everything available online. You could hum a tune to them, or tell them what commercial you heard the song on, and the call center operators would endeavor to help you find the music. Heck, you might even have a snobby department that would sneer at you for wanting to find a Billy Joel album and try to play you the new Band of Horses instead.
True, there will be consumers who will want to navigate the cyber seas, gellin’ like Magellan, to find their own stuff just like in the brick and mortar days. But for some consumers, live interaction with human consultants could prove very popular. Not quite sure about “monetization”, i.e. who would pay and for what, or how the service could pay for its staff.