Coats aren’t miscellaneous, and the future of online store personalization

In Everything is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger’s thesis is that digital objects aren’t stuck with one type of organization. Instead of an item being on one particular shelf in a given store, items can be found by many different characteristics. Last weekend I was reminded that’s one reason I rarely shop in physical stores – but the online ones haven’t solved my problems either.

I was in Macy’s, looking for a coat. Since it’s fall, I’d have expected there to be an outerwear section in the store where I could look at all the possibilities. No such luck. Instead the coats were scattered by designer: a clerk explained that the Ralph Lauren coats are over here, the Nautica ones are over there, and there are a few more scattered on the floor.

Certainly that can be the right organization. If I’m shopping for myself, I often look first at brand, then color, then size. But in this case, when I wanted an overview of all the options within a particular category, the fact that the store hadn’t sorted by that category made it nearly impossible to shop effectively.

At, I can see all the coats. Sorting by type of apparel is even listed in the left navigation above sorting by brand – bricks-and-mortar stores, take note. Once I’m looking at coats, I can narrow my view further by brand. Some stores (i.e. Nordstrom) will let me sort by brand also, so I can still see everything but can easily compare within each line. But I’m still not happy with my shopping experience.

Why? I still haven’t seen a department store that will let me search only for “brands I wear”. Simple customization, right? Checkboxes in my profile when I register, and if I’ve filled out that section, offer me a personalized search. Then the store can also target its email marketing to me, meaning I’ll enjoy receiving useful emails (branding) and will buy some of the “five Nine West items on sale in our shoe department!” (direct response). Is anyone out there doing this? Am I just not registered at the right online stores?

About Jennifer Berk

I'm an analytics and data leader with a marketing and product mindset. I like online newspapers, science fiction and fantasy, and ugly fish.
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