Thursday 14 January 2021

The concept of the Knowledge Supermarket, and how to apply it

Your knowledge store should support people who browse as well as people who search. It should be like a shopper-friendly supermarket.

Image from wikimedia commons
Some shoppers know exactly what they want. They walk into the relevant store, ask an assistant where to find the item, and buy it. Others are open to serendipity, and prefer to browse. They don't always end up with what they went into the store to buy, but often end up with a better purchase.

You can see similar behaviour among the customers of online knowledge bases. Some know clearly what piece of knowledge, or document, they are after, and use targeted search to find it. Think "Google".

Others are not so sure where the knowledge lies, and prefer to browse. Think "Wikipedia", with its ability to follow links to find what you want. 

We need our knowledge bases to cater for both types of customer. We need good effective search for the people who know exactly what they want (implying that content needs to be well tagged), and we need a browse-friendly structured site so people can find what they need, even if they didn't know it existed.

Here a bricks-and-mortar grocery supermarket is a good model. I say "bricks and mortar" as many people find online supermarket grocery shopping to be a very different experience.

Bricks-and-mortar supermarkets rely on people browsing to the content they want so they can buy it. They also give a lot of thought to pointing the customers towards other products, which they might not have known they needed. Every aspect of a store’s layout, from the flower display near the entrance to the chocolate by the check-out is designed to stimulate "shopping serendipity".

  • Flowers, fruit and vegetables at the entrance make the store smell and look good
  • Quick-use "grab and go" items such as snacks and bottled water are at the entrance, for people who want to shop quickly
  • Promotional items are at the aisle-ends, so are in plain sight 
  • Products are grouped by type (pasta, tins, cheese, butter) to make them easier to find
  • Popular high-value items are displayed at eye-level
  • Often there are themed displays - a Mexican section with sauces, tacos, tortillas, refried beans for example, or an Indian section with curry spices, sauces, poppadums and Naan bread - so you can buy all you need for a single meal
  • Warm colours attract people to a store, hence the warm brick exteriors. Cool colours inside encourage more contemplation and higher sales
  • Loyalty cards are used to track customer activity, and to learn more about customer behaviour. 

Can we use similar principles to encourage users to browse our knowledge bases? 

We could try 
  • similar approaches to colours for example, or 
  • putting the high value items in the high-visibility page space, 
  • promoting new knowledge where it is most visible, 
  • grouping and associating content in folders or on index pages so that all knowledge related to a particular process or activity is found together (see here), 
  • placing the "grab and go" items on the front page, and
  •  using web metrics to understand the behaviour of our knowledge customers, so we can improve the design of the knowledge base.  

If we make our knowledge bases a little more like a grocery  supermarket, we stand a better chance of attracting and keeping the browsing customers, and helping them to find knowledge that they didn't even know they needed.

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