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Competitive Thinking: Do You Google Your Customers?

Do you Google your customers? Why not? Maybe it’s part of competitive webmastering.

I enjoy working with ecommerce websites, especially when they are either 1. Really Big or 2. Really Small.  When they are BIG, they have people paying attention to things like conversion rates and proper split testing, and can accomplish things I might suggest, like “can we do a lookup on email addy and see if this person has ever ordered before, while the form is being filled out?”. I like small sites because with a small set of specific improvements I can make a really big impact, without too many existing barriers.

But when I suggest Googling customers to any of my clients, I often get “dumb looks”. Googling customers is one of the few things I like to do with Google’s API… most other stuff is potentially skewed through the API.

A customer ordered a collection of high end items with overnight delivery. I saw the order while scanning (manually, by eye) incoming orders. My brain’s pattern recognition engine noticed Qty 1 of dozens of items… which is a-typical for this ecommerce site. Upon closer look, the items ordered represented a “collection” from a design house,  including non-complimentary lines (the kind that are normaly ordered separately… never together, because they clash).

Was the email address known prior? The shipping address? The credit card? No. It was a new customer.

Well, a new customer buying a sample set of a designer at retail, “anonymously” over the Internet is interesting to me. I Googled her. Sure enough, she is a top executive at a competing global brand. So now we have a top executive at a global brand buying one of each for two lines, at full retail, over the web, on a private credit card, to be delivered to an address that (when Googled) is actually associated (in Google) with that global brand. Huh. Sounds like someone likes this line for some reason, and is personally placing it in view of her associates (either as part of a plan, for use in training or competitive research, or on a personal whim).

Now you can imagine for yourself what you might do with this information, as I will do here (rather than say what was actually done).

First, you can present the order in a way that “pre-sells” this kind of client for future business. Perhaps emphasize your wholesale relationships with the industry, or offer an update service… with each new line introduced, they get a sample? Second, since this particular Design Executive was so famous, you can actually learn what colors she likes, what styles, and what brands, and package the order for the optimal “out of box experience”. For premium products, this is of minimal cost/effort and very, very worthwhile. You don’t want to send a brown velvet box to someone who has stated very clearly in the press how she thinks brown velvet is a fabric best suited for dog beds.

Of course data brokers sell this sort of profiling data, and I suppose that’s a good million dollar initiative for big sites to implement over the next 5 year plan, but it just seems fresh and easy to me to Google an order here and there. Maybe it’s a healthy exercise for the hands on executive…. just a few minutes per day, keeping in touch with the reality of the customer base, and the reality that is search.

John Battelle reminds us we should Google our Dates before getting into relationships. We know an incoming order is just the start of what will hopefully become a long-term relationship with the customer. So why not Google Your Customer?


  1. IncrediBILL wrote:

    You obviously don’t shop via mail order much or you might consider that the Exec for that global brand simply had it shipped to her office so she wouldn’t miss the delivery person at her house which is a pain in the …

    Of course she could’ve had ulterior motives as well, and it wouldn’t be surprising, but consider all the options before jumping to conclusions.

    However, I agree with Googling customers because when I had an ecommerce site we used Google just to verify the name, address and often the phone number as well.

    Poor man’s fraud check.

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 11:09 pm | Permalink
  2. John Andrews wrote:

    “fraud check” maybe, but stepping back out of your belief system I’d say it was “additional knowledge” which simply made you more comfortable with the order in the context of e-commerce. Your interest was your own security.

    What if your interest was providing a premier customer experience with your brand? We are saying the same thing… you could Google the customer for the additional knowledge.

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 11:40 pm | Permalink