I was browsing ProductHunt today and my friend Dave posted an email newsletter, GetBiked that’s focused on a once a week mailing of bikes for sale. Ryan had a good comment that you can see below:

I responded and the thread really started to shape my feelings on something I call passive commerce. Passive commerce is the activity of browsing for an item for sale that you know you’re going to buy sometime in the near future (within the next 6-9 months), but you have no immediacy to buy now. Here’s passive commerce in the context of other types of intent in the ecommerce space:

Intent Generation – This is why Pinterest could be big. It helps generate intent for items you didn’t know you even wanted. It’s the ultimate top of the funnel generation.

Intent Harvesting – This is why Amazon and Google are big. They allow you to harvest the intent that’s been generated. When you go to Amazon, you’re usually ready to make the purchase.

Passive Commerce exists at the space in-between intent generation and intent harvesting. You know you already want the product, but have no immediacy to buy it. Passive Commerce accelerates the step to intent harvesting.

The decision to buy it will likely come from browsing and finally encountering any of the following or some in combination:

1 – A great deal that is just too good to pass up. It’s the diamond in the rough you’ve been waiting for.
2 – A specific variant on the product that you won’t be able to get elsewhere. If it’s a car it might be a certain make/model/color combination. If it’s an apartment, it might be a specific building or layout (think duplex apartments).
3 – A breaking point, where the existing solution won’t tide you over anymore. An example might be your current television. You know you need to replace it soon, but not right this second. If the TV breaks or becomes just too unusable, it might allow you to finally make the plunge.

Passive commerce really falls somewhere in-between goods that are a necessity and goods that are purchased via disposable income. Some of the items may be a necessity and some of the items might be things you’d like to get one day – you just need the right incentive. Here are two examples:

Housing (necessity) – You know you’re moving in the next 3-6 months, but you don’t need to sign anything today. Passive commerce allows you to start seeing places that are of interest and you might just put a deposit on, if the right place catches your eye.

Electronics (disposable income) – You know you’re going to get a new TV, but it’s not that pressing. You’re either going to wait for a Black Friday sale or for a new model to come out. You might occasionally scan craigslist for the right deal.

Cars (disposable income AND necessity) – You need a car in many places, but you also don’t need a new car. At some point, everyone starts thinking about their next car. If they own it, the timetable is much more flexible, whereas leases are on a set timetable for your next car. Many dealerships actually take advantage of passive commerce and provide offers that get you out of your current lease and into one of their own cars.

There’s no real product that focuses on this right now. It’s a disjointed activity, but it’s something people do a lot. They either continually check out the item on Amazon or look at reviews of new TVs. Ad retargeting is about the closest that comes to this, but it’s often intrusive. I don’t think daily deals were/are the answer either. They focus on generating intent as opposed to harvesting intent that already exists. ie- oh, that place looks cool, lets give it a try or why not go skydiving?

The right product is likely focused on pushing content to the user as opposed to forcing them to pull it on a whim. The best answer to this is either through mobile push notifications or an email newsletter. Subscribe to the products that you’re passively considering and have relevant deals/used products/new products/research pushed to you. I think that’s what GetBiked is doing for bicycles. It’s also how CraigsList got started – a once a week push of things for sale and events to go to. If you were passively considering a couch and the right one came along, you might spring to action.  What products have you seen that focus on this gap between intent generation and intent harvesting?