RFS 2: New Paths Through Product Space

Online stores group products by who sells them. Not because that's the optimal way to group products for consumers; it's just a cultural artifact left over from the time when the only way to present a collection of things for sale was a retail store or print catalog.

There's no reason catalogs (in the sense of lists) have to be made by the vendor. In fact, it would be surprising if, as technology allowed specialization to increase, the companies that were best at mundane things like answering questions, taking orders, packing and shipping them, and taking returns, were also the best at selecting products and presenting them for sale.

If you envision the collections of products sold by individual merchants as a block of imaginary catalogs stored on a shelf, it's obvious that there are an infinite number of paths you could take through that block, not just the vertical slices representing the catalogs. It's very unlikely the vertical slices are optimal.

What would be best paths through product space? Who has an interest in creating them, and what could you build to help them?

The founders of this startup should include one or more solid programmers who are not above mucking about with a lot of tedious, site-specific code, someone who is very good at graphic design, and someone willing and able to talk to vendors and manufacturers and convince them to do deals with you. As always, it's good if these functions can be combined.


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