I’ve been thinking about the ways we could display that data at other parts in the buying process to help people make confident decisions.

Paper price tags accompany products in store. This tag at John Lewis invites consumers to download and use an app to get more information about a product. (Photo: Ian Hutchinson/IF).

Doing the hard work for consumers

The information given to us when we shop is focused on things like price and functionality. These are important things to know, but it’s increasingly an incomplete picture. There’s the hidden things, like if a product has a security vulnerability or comes with default settings that might weaken your privacy. This is particularly important as we see the network in objects it hasn’t been in before.

Finding out about these kind of problems is difficult. The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures database lists known security problems in software, but the technical language that surrounds this doesn’t meet the needs of consumers. Security problems in products can make the headlines, but coverage is limited to hard-hitting examples and it would be impossible to cover lots of devices.

Most of the devices we use are insecure. This graph shows that after June 2015, just under 60% of Android mobile phones ran an insecure version of the operating system. (Photo: A. Beresford, D. Thomas, A. Rice. Source.)

Digital literacy is also a hard problem. Without understanding how a technology works, it can be difficult to know what questions to ask about the devices we buy.

This applies to consumers and retailers. When it comes to security, there’s a lot to keep on top of and many retail staff don’t have the training or knowledge to be able to help. One consumer told us “when it comes to digital products I am usually convinced that I know more than the sales person.”

When new information about a product becomes available, it’s pushed straight to the buyer. (Photo: Andrew Corrigan/IF).

Putting data about products to work

I’ve been thinking about how we can get more information about products to consumers in shops. Manufacturers could make labels, but the frequent changes in software and terms we see in products can make this information get old quickly. Retailers could put this information into an app that consumers can use in store, but that means fumbling with a phone and could exclude people who find them difficult to use.

The live advice tag is a probe into ways of giving consumers information about a product based on data from people that have already bought it. It’s a device that sits next to the products that are on display in a shop. We can draw from the data collected by services like The Log and tell people about things like security vulnerabilities that affect a product, or if people frequently return it.

The prototype uses an electronic ink display so that fresh information can be quickly pushed to consumers. It references the format of paper price tags to give a sense of familiarity, and to make the information as glanceable as checking the price of something.

Mocking up language for the tag to see what wording resonates most with consumers. (Photo: Ian Hutchinson/IF).

Customers want to know a thing is okay

We need to be thoughtful about how we communicate this information about products to consumers. They need to be able to understand this information quickly and use it to make a confident buying decision.

We thought of different ways of phrasing the advice on the tag and put them in front of people to see which ones are more likely to influence people’s buying decisions. There’s the very direct “buy” and “don’t buy” combination, whose tone is reminiscent of The Wirecutter review website that recommends that you buy one product over all others. We tried the generic feeling “safe” and “try another” combination and more specific variants like “20% of these are faulty” and “security problems reported”.

The people we asked responded best to a combination of “safe” when a product is working well or a reference to a particular problem when it’s not, “security problems reported”. We’ll need to test this in an actual shop with a bigger group of people.

I think making this information available to consumers more ambiently is the first step in moving the conversation beyond price and functionality. It makes the lesser known aspects of products like privacy and security more visible.

Left: Using paper models to test the form we wanted the live advice tag to have. Right: The live advice tag prototype uses an eInk screen is run using an Arduino Uno. (Photos: Ian Hutchinson/IF)

This post is part of a series about the Future of Consumer Advocacy, supported by Near Now. We’ve also been looking at how to show change in products and how marks can create trust between consumers and products.