Digital Gift Catalogue

«Mike dear, a present ought not to be very expensive – unless you are trying to get a girl to marry you, or something. Especially ‹something›. But a present should show that you thought about it and considered that person’s tastes. Something he would enjoy but probably would not buy for himself.»
«Stranger In A Strange Land» by Robert A. Heinlein

With the increasing use of online recommendations based on user behavior, I wonder whether we might be losing something. Just look at the following image:

Sears Wish Book 1980 (source unknown)

as Chrissy described it on WGNA:

There was a Sears department store in every mall throughout New York state when we were growing up. Around Christmas time, our parents would always take out the Sears Holiday Wish Book catalog and tell us to circle what we wanted Santa to bring us. Here is a catalog from the 1980s for you to flip through and take a trip down memory lane!
Chrissy on WGNA

And sure, you can go to, e.g., Amazon, and browse through the categories. But the idea of a curated catalogue with a few high-quality items in each category … nicely designed; something that is a joy to flip through, rather than the sterile, dry Amazon pages?

Something that is not specifically created for the person based on their past behavior. That would only make the person more of what he already is. Instead it would be something that rewards exploration, expands one’s horizon, by flipping through these pages. Finding new and better suited interests. A bit akin to a story about a person who lost his memory but retained his factual knowledge. He went into a library and began to browse books. When he found technical books that he quickly understood and in which he spotted errors right away, he knew more about his past profession. Here, browsing could lead to the realization that perhaps that or that hobby might be something.

Perhaps having the catalogue in hierarchically clustered sections and subsections, akin to Amazon, but with a limited amount of pages. Pages similar to those in a book or catalogue. This way you know you have seen everything within the catalogue. In contrast to Amazon, where you can never see everything and where you might miss out of whole categories of hobbies.

The catalogue would still be digital, as using a tablet would cover most of the look and feel. This avoids the need to print it and waste lots of paper. But it would have a finite quantity to it, avoiding Schwartz’s «Paradox of Choice». The user would no longer be overwhelmed by the huge amount of choices, which might reduce his anxiety.

Funny thing, it might be possible to auto-generate such a catalogue by using AI and crawling Amazon. All you would need to do is determine the parameters. This would include which sections and subsections to fill, the search terms and quality parameters. For example, the minimum star rating, price, and availability.

The catalogue could even be integrated on Amazon. If it allowed for the usage Chrissy mentioned — circling the things you want Santa to bring you — that would be something. And yeah, I know there are wishlists on Amazon, but I am thinking of something more aesthetically pleasing. And if some or most people still want to use Amazon as it is, they can easily do so. It could also assist people in finding similar products once they have identified an item they like.

Oh, and there is no need to limit such a catalogue solely to Christmas. It could also focus on specific age groups, similar to a birthday catalogue.

Worth a thought.