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Ultimately, Consumers Want Gadget Simplicity

According to Human Factors International, ironies emerge when we try to explain customers' attraction to products with unlimited features. A recent series of experiments (Rust, Thomson, and Hamilton, 2006), explore how added features, ability to personalize, and ultimately hands-on experience affected consumers' satisfaction with a product.

In the first experiment, consumers were asked to rate perceived capability, usability and utility across digital audio/video consumer electronics (CE) products with varied feature sets. Then participants were asked to select the product that they would want to own.

Consumer-participants stated that adding features to a product increased perceived capability. They also predicted that adding features would decrease the perceived usability. Then they overwhelmingly indicated that they wanted to own the product with the most features. It is especially interesting to note that this holds even for novices, who anticipate a larger usability challenge than experts, but still want all those features.

In their second experiment, Rust and colleagues compared consumers' satisfaction of the digital audio/video players before and after actual use. They found that perceived capability and usability collide during experience. Before using the feature-rich product, consumers focused on capability more than usability. Regardless, after direct experience, usability became paramount. Satisfaction was higher with the simpler product. In this subsequent experiment, most participants rejected the high-feature model.

So, do you give consumers what they want now? Or develop products that will increase the lifetime value of customers? This seems to be an interesting conundrum for organizations providing services and products with unlimited feature potential. However, what if you didn't have to make that trade-off? That's the essential goal of what I call "built-in simplicity, by design." As an example, creative new gadget designs could gradually expose the inherent features over time, all based upon a consumer's ongoing usage characteristics.

Utilizing the same notion, there's a service opportunity here as well. Time-release feature activation -- now, there's a real innovation that all broadband service providers should consider as they deploy their multi-play bundle offerings that require complex interoperability between provider CPE and a customer's CE devices.

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