How to get the internet to shop for you

Internet shopping has many convenience advantages over going to the mall; yet even in cyberspace we still have to make decisions regarding what to buy.

But what if somebody else did the decision-making for you? All you do is sit at your computer, fill out a questionnaire, pay with your credit card and bingo, luxury stuff – stuff you really like, and that actually fits you - turns up a few days later in the mail.

According to self-proclaimed “futurologist” Chris Sanderson, tomorrow is already here. Well, it is in the Northern Hemisphere, where a new crop of companies are using the web to make the process more data-driven and social than ever before.

Customer profiling is already big business and Sanderson, the founder of The Future Laboratory, predicts it won't be long until Australians are also reaping the benefits. (Until such time, though, there's nothing stopping you using a US freight forwarder).

“The process is really streamlined,” Sanderson says. “You fill out a survey at the start of your relationship with a brand, and through that survey the company sends you products suited specifically to your personality.”

It might sound a tad Orwellian; but if it saves you from another Saturday afternoon schlepping around the mall, or confusing hours in front of the keyboard, is that such a bad thing?

One example to particularly appeal to shopping-averse blokes is Chicago-based start-up Trunk Club (which is yet to arrive in Australia). You go online and choose your style category (clueless, confident, or aficionado) then select, from a series of photographs of well-dressed blokes, the 'looks' you could imagine yourself wearing. Next, you tick the stores where you shop, and finally you fill in your measurements and leave your contact details.

You are immediately allocated a personal stylist who phones you within a day or two and hands-selects outfits based on your conversation. Your first trunk arrives in about a week. You keep what you like and ship back the rest for free. Easy.


You know that feeling of panic when you're standing in a bottle shop, feeling overwhelmed with choice and ignorance? Well, Dutch wine company Winecast is making a virtue of that indecision. Its website and mobile app subscription service help wine novices discover wines that suit their palate.

Winecast beginners take a taste test to establish what kind of wine they like. There are six simple questions, including 'How much do you like bitter flavours, such as pure chocolate and espresso?' From the answers you provide, six wine recommendations are delivered each month. If Winecast's “sommeliers” – in reality an algorithm developed with a group of wine experts – get it wrong and find wine that is not to your taste, you can ask for another one at no extra charge.

We took the online test and among the wines selected for us were a Chateau de Macard Bordeaux Superieur, El Coto Rioja Crianza, and a Pimpala Road Shiraz from our own Barossa Valley. All were selections we'd be more than happy to cuddle up with.

Sadly, there appear to be no Australian wine companies yet doing the same thing, but there's nothing stopping you from taking Winecast's test and ordering the selected wines yourself.

Commodity is an LA-based fragrance company that dispenses with the survey but instead sends you out a $US9 'fitting kit' of all 10 of their men's colognes. The samples arrive as mini-sprayers and you try each one for a couple of days to see which you like. Included are a selection of 'fresh scents', 'warm scents' and 'woodsy scents'. Descriptions are clear and concise; top notes, mid notes and base notes are outlined, and there's even a handy suggestion as to whether the scent is best suited to wearing during the day or night.

Find the scents you prefer and if you place your order within 30 days, your initial outlay for the fitting kit is deducted from the price of the full-size 100ml bottle ($US108.00), or a trio of 10ml sprayers ($US48.00) you purchase.

We're yet to find any Australian companies utilising customer profiling, however online tailor Institchu comes close. Founded by two university students who could only afford cheap, ill-fitting suits, they decided to launch a website that allows customers to specify their own custom-made suits and shirts and have them delivered to the door for a fraction of the price that a high-street tailor would charge.

You go online, register, follow instructions to take your own measurements, and then come up with a design you like. It's fully customisable, right down to the colour of the cotton that holds the buttons in place. Decision-phobics can check out the 'movie suits' on the site, and ask for a similar suit to that worn by Daniel Craig or Ryan Gosling, for example. There's also customer-friendly links to style tips, classic looks, and timeless trends.

Co-founder James Wakefield says Institchu's next move will be towards customer profiling. “The more data you can capture about your customer, the better you can get to know them and can better service their needs,” he says. “Eventually, through an online survey, we hope to be able to match fabrics and styles to the customer's personality, so we can suggest suits and shirts that we think they'll like.”