Web storefronts present dual marketing challenges that few companies conquer. First, how can one introduce shoppers to unfamiliar products they might like, inside a 'virtual store' whose shelves are mostly invisible until shoppers ask to see something specific? Second, how can a web site's deaf-and-dumb interface anticipate and tune in to the various mood states of different customers, in the way that an adroit flesh-and-blood salesman could?
Have a look at www.peoplesound.com, an online music store that labours to solve both problems at once. Like other music sites, this British start-up lets visitors browse editors' picks and search within refined music categories (from 'Balearic electronica' to 'bebop jazz').
But peoplesound takes a further step: it lures visitors into online listening booths that feature audio samples of unfamiliar bands, and does so by organising its merchandise around the differing mood states of the visitor.
With only four moods to choose from - 'blue', 'laid back', 'happy go lucky', and 'seriously up for it!' - the customer match-up is patchy at best. I picked 'blue' music - expecting Miles Davis - but was served up bands called Lazydog and Cosmic Mindwarp. But such unexpected encounters are exactly the point of the system. Surprisingly, Cosmic Mindwarp wasn't half bad.