Dec 31, 2021

Behaviors across physical and digital worlds

The way we interact with the physical world and the digital world has a lot of similarities. Let me explain.

Last weekend, I had been to a book store, which had a wide collection across various categories. How did I navigate this place?

First, I went to the categories that I'm mostly interested in - psychology, business, marketing, spirituality. As I was walking through the different aisles, I picked up books to browse - those I have either heard of OR added to my Amazon wish list. Except for a few random books with an interesting title, I mostly stuck to books that I was familiar with.

I wanted to take a look at this book "Behave" by Robert Sapolsky but couldn't find it under psychology. I asked an associate working there and he brought the book from the "Science" section.

I also enquired about a few other books and also wanted to check if they are available in the used books collection. The associate answered all my questions patiently. I ended up buying the book "Behave", which had been in my wish list for a while but couldn't make the purchase decision earlier because of the font size and cost.

A few years back, I was visiting a book store in Chennai. It was a nice, cozy place with a limited collection of books. As I was browsing through the aisle, a gentleman introduced himself as someone who works at this store and would be able to recommend books to me. Without asking whether I'd be interested in such a service, he started picking books from the shelf and was showing them to me, explaining a little bit about the book, the author, etc. Without giving any time for me to process the information or peruse through the book he handed over to me, he went ahead and brought more books. After a point, the whole experience felt irritating. I left the place without buying anything.

As I thought about these two incidents, a few ideas emerged on how these translate into building meaningful experiences in the digital world.

  1. There will be a set of users who need guidance and help to pick from a collection - be it books, online courses, jewelry, clothing, etc. Maybe, they are beginners or they would need some assistance in making the right choice.
  2. There will be a set of users who know exactly what they want. They are capable of searching it themselves through the catalog. If they are not able to, they might ask for help. Maybe, they were looking for it in the wrong place, their search queries may be incorrect or the catalog doesn't have a robust search capability.
  3. Make sense of their actions, beyond just clicks. In the physical world, this would mean - the person looking clueless in a bookstore and he is just going in circles, sometimes even looking around for help. In the digital world, this would mean - opening multiple product descriptions across various categories, scrolling randomly without getting into any specific product description, looking for FAQ/Help/Support pages.
  4. If you notice a user behavior pattern that matches to users being clueless and might need some help, take proactive steps and offer suggestions. Ask for permission first. Then ask a few questions (without sounding too intrusive) to understand their intent and suggest a few options that might be relevant. Make sure to consider their budget - in terms of money, time, or effort, depending on the context.

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