consumer behavior that got me to thinking: how is it possible, in a broadcast medium such as the Web, to consider the personality and motivation of a specific buyer? It's easy enough to understand how these ideas would be applied to direct sales - a face-to-face selling situation provides the salesman with the ability to read a person and adapt the way in which he pitches the product to the personality and motivation of the prospect. But on the Internet, a single interface communicates product information to all buyers.
I have a sense that certain firms collect enough information about their users to make an educated guess: a bookstore would likely be able to sort out a person's personality relatively easy, and to some degree the same could be done with any entertainment product (music, videos, etc. all are categories where the user's consumption provides strong hints); a retailer who sells a wide variety of merchandise; or a credit card company (which cannot detect the items, but the retailers should provide sufficient evidence to make a reasonable estimate).
Even a niche retailer might have a sense of its demographic, and in some instances be able to formulate a fairly accurate estimation of the way in which its particular body of customers is skewed. And the fact that certain kinds of customers prefer certain retailers might lead a single firm to operate multipel storefronts that sell the same inventory, with different presentation styles to appeal to different market segments.
It's an interesting notion, and one that is not new to the online medium ... but the online medium does seem to provide certain facilities that would enable a single firm to more easily adapt its strategy to the needs of specific market segments in a more fluid and adaptable way than could be done in the brick-and-mortar or catalog channels.