ser·en·dip·i·ty /ˌsɛr ənˈdɪp ɪ ti/ –noun
1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
2. good fortune; luck: the serendipity of getting the first job she applied for.
In the offline shopping experience, this is quite common. You know, that feeling of walking into your favourite bookshop and picking something up in a section you don’t normally go into just because they rearranged the aisles. The moment when you stumble across some gorgeous shirt in a store you have never visited before, but your friend needed to ‘say hello’ to the salesgirl.
That magic moment where you discover something cool (and better than the others) by accident.
Or – as happened to me not so long ago – entering an hotel where you stayed only once a couple of months before and the concierge welcomes you by name.
In the online experience, things get a little bit more complicated.
Just like in the “real” world, online serendipity is a phenomenon where users encounter something they like that they were not expecting. We all know about targeting and segmentation: Amazon made a sort of 11th commandment of it (the “people like you buy stuff like this” functionality), and this has been replicated in thousands of platforms and marketplaces. Clearly, providing important and relevant information from your peers will help increasing conversion rates significantly.
But serendipity happens when you are not going for shopping.
Amazon’s lists (and the likes) never amaze. Serendipity gives you things that you weren’t looking for right now and suddenly you think: “OMG, I gotta have it!”
In my opinion, the next phase will be to anticipate users’ questions and answer them before they are even asked. That’s the same kind of experience you have during your offline saturday afternoon shopping session, when you see something blinking at you from the window of that never-even-realized-it-was-there bazaar.
Social networks have a strong part to play here, but we need something more than rating and sharing to be genuinely surprised.
Google+, are you ready?