Web sites we can’t live without

On our White Horse blog, for which I shamelessly syndicate my posts onto my personal blog, today’s topic is “The Web site that you can’t live without.” I’m going to risk provoking the scorn of my hyper-connected colleagues and stay firmly off of the limb, clinging to the trunk, and nominate Amazon.com, or more specifically, Amazon Prime. I do so because it gives me an opportunity to flog one of my cherished Grand Unifying Theories (GUT) of Web phenomena, the Rise of Self-Command.

The concept of self-command comes from the economist and game theory guru Thomas Schelling, and it refers to the way people enter into contracts against themselves – sometimes literal, sometimes virtual – in order to change their own behavior for the better. My argument is that part of the social glue of the Web is self-command: people exposing their diet habits, spending habits, reading lists, friendships, daily activities, and on and on in order to better themselves through the social pressure that the Web creates. How many times have you paused before tapping out a Facebook update or renting a Rob Schneider movie on Netflix, and wondered how this was going to shape the social self you’re putting on display? That’s self-command.

Amazon Prime is the more traditional variety of self-command – one with an actual contract – but it works in similar ways to make me a better person. Or at least a better consumer. For $79 a year, Amazon opens its bounty to me, allowing me to obtain any item in a single click with free two-day or dirt-cheap overnight shipping. Two years in, I still marvel at the elegant simplicity of this scheme. Until I purchase up to that $79 equivalent in shipping costs, Amazon is making gravy off me. And once my spending surpasses that threshold, then my purchasing habits have irrevocably shifted toward Amazon, and they’re really making gravy off me.

So what’s in it for me? Everything. I get to feel special when I come to the site and smug when I buy some honkin’ huge item that should have cost a bundle to ship (Just bought a reel mower; thirty bucks less than at Home Depot, and it’s coming right to my house for free. Sweeet. ) Amazon has unlocked the psychology of gratification behind both impulse purchasing and the wonky, research-driven purchase of a carefully selected item.

Since this is a pet theory, naturally I believe that there’s huge potential for marketers to build consumer loyalty with self-command. And of course, a huge part of the draw of social sites is the ability to self-command your way into greater connectedness. When you ignore those friend requests, you’re violating the contract you made with yourself to stay in touch with people. So you probably won’t ignore them for long.

Want to learn more about self-command? Schelling’s Strategies of Commitment is available and eligible for free shipping on Amazon Prime.

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