Raise your hand if the last time you purchased something online, you used a search engine. It could have been Google to find that new tablet that you’ve been eyeing, or on Amazon for the new Heston Blumenthal cookbook as part of your New Year resolutions.

Either way, I’m pretty sure that almost everyone would have had either one, or both hands waving wildly in the air. ECommerce is dominated by Search, and rightly so – it is extremely effective in finding the answers to our shopping needs when we know exactly what we want.

However, what if you don’t know exactly what you want, but you have a vague idea, or only the description? Try entering “modern style cookbook by Michelin star chef” into Google and you don’t really get a clear recommendation of Heston Blumenthal’s cookbook. I get links to recipes, a newspaper review of a cookbook from 2008, and the Fine Dining Lovers blog. But I really should be seeing his cookbook at the top, especially since I’ve searched for Heston Blumenthal and his restaurants many times in the past, and follow his Twitter and Facebook page. Essentially, Google is the Yellow Pages of the internet – if you know what you want, you can quickly find websites that have it. If you don’t, it’s as useful as asking a random passerby on the street.

The solution therefore, is the next generation of search, called “Curated Discovery”: Part standard keyword search (e.g. Google), part semantic search (Facebook Open Graph), and part expert recommendations.

Curated Discovery is nothing new – stores have been doing the offline version of it for years. Walk into a fashion store, and you either:

  • Ask the assistant for the exact dress and size that you want;
  • Tell them some parameters (dress for summer, bright colours, cotton material) and they filter a selection for you;
  • Ask them for their expert opinion; or
  • A combination of all three

How can companies bring this Curated Discovery process online to their eCommerce stores?

In the commoditised world of eCommerce, companies need to add value above and beyond mere price, and providing a Curated Discovery is one way of developing this by offering a truly personalised shopping experience for customers.

To build a Curated Discovery capability for an eCommerce website, there are four overall requirements:

Step 1: Customer Data

Your company needs to be geared up to capture, organise, and leverage data about your customer’s preferences, behaviour, and their past purchases. Customer data provides context, preferences, and an indication of product fit.

Step 2: Layer Social Data on Top

One flaw with basing recommendations on Customer Data alone is that it leads to a Discovery Spiral. Youtube is a prime example – if you watch the Gagnam Style music video for example, it will recommend you one with an Obama look-a-like. And then you watch that, you get more recommendations of Gangnam Style memes, and soon you find yourself too deep. The system thinks you’re only interested in watching music videos with imaginary horses featured in them, when really all you were looking for in the first place was funny videos and as a result you missed out on Harlem Shake.

To break this Discovery Spiral, you need social data. What do the customer’s friends on Facebook and Twitter like? Are bright pink boat shoes raved about amongst the customer’s social circle? What celebrity pages does the customer follow on Facebook? Are they wearing Hugo Boss or SuperDry?

Step 3: Contextually Aware

A half price offer on sunscreen probably won’t work if the customer is jetting off to Siberia in January. If a customer has come to your store by Tube instead of by car, you shouldn’t be recommending that crate of beer.

Geo-location is one type of contextual data that is useful; another is significant events in the customer’s life like birthdays or anniversaries. Not many companies have been successful in using contextual customer data, but this is one of the key areas to watch in 2013 and 2014.

Step 4: Delivery

With the explosion of smartphones, tablets, and smart devices (see the Internet of Things), customers will soon be surrounded by connected devices, even when away from their desktop or laptop. An All Channel Experience strategy is required to ensure that your eCommerce and marketing is consistent and accessible through any digital channel.

Omnichannel Digital Asset Management (DAM), for managing content across channels, will be crucial. Integration of marketing platforms, eCommerce platforms, and CRM databases will be critical to delivery of a consistent omnichannel customer experience. 


Curated Discovery has been flying stealthily under the radar so far, but with big data becoming more manageable, you will hear more about it in the coming months and years as companies wake up to its potential. However, as outlined above, there are several key enabling steps that are required before it can be harnessed by companies, and it is important to start putting the blocks in place now in order not to be sidelined when Curated Discovery becomes mainstream.