11 January 2011

Sell, Buy, Need

Every computer I've ever owned has done WAY more than I needed it to do. The same goes for just about every piece of software, every digital camera... you get the picture. Even something as simple as a newspaper has a ton of content that I'm completely uninterested in, but the publisher sells the whole thing to me anyway. 

A couple years ago, I paid a little extra for some additional features on a dishwasher, then promptly failed to ever use those features. I knew better but just couldn't help myself. 

I think the only electronic gadget I own that doesn't have a bundle of unused features is my 1st generation iPod shuffle, circa 2005. That little musical wonder basically only has one feature - it plays music (either in order or shuffled) and you could get any color you wanted as long as it's white. Side note - the 4th Gen Shuffle now sells for $47 and has more buttons, VoiceOver, playlists and comes in 5 colors.

A while back I read a study that said consumers tend to have a positive view of extra features, even if they are features that'll never get used. That is, when given a choice between two similar cameras, people tend to purchase the one that has a few extra capabilities (and a correspondingly higher price), even though they don't really need to ever (ever ever ever!) use them. 

So there's a reason consumer electronics have so many never-to-be-used features: it's what sells. It may not serve the customer well, but it's what the customer wants to pay for. [Sadly, I haven't been able to track down that report - lemme know if you have any more luck.]

When we think we're buying a superior gadget because it's got more features, what we're actually taking home is extra complexity, unused capacity and unnecessary expense. That means the company is selling one thing and we're buying something else. The end result is that we pay extra for stuff that's more complicated than it needs to be and which has features we'll never use. The funny thing is, most of the time what we need is a simpler, more focused capability. That applies to software, computers, electronics and military tech, to name a few. 

I mapped it out on the Simplicity Cycle framework below. The sales guy pitches the objet du d├ęsir as if it resides in the upper right quadrant but in actual use it's in the upper left quadrant. What the customer needed was in the lower right...

Keep this in mind when buying or designing things. Don't get distracted by shiny objects and unnecessary complexity. Instead, aim for the lower right quadrant - simple, good, low-cost technology. I'm not saying everyone has to rock a 5-year-old 1st Gen iPod Shuffle like I do. I'm just suggesting there are better ways to shop and better ways to build. And for that matter, there are better ways to sell... i.e. taking into account what the buyer actually needs.

Check out The Simplicity Cycle book (It's free! It's simple! It's in the lower right quadrant!) for a more detailed discussion... and don't forget to add your own thoughts in the comments section.


Kim said...

Although I am in need of a new cell phone (which are cleverly designed to self destruct after 1.5 years of use), I'm dreading going to the Verizon store to get a new one. The sales team is ruthless and I've heard rumors that they will only sell phones now that require a data package - whatever that is. Perhaps I'll go armed with a copy of the simplicity cycle.
BTW, I just finished Skyler on the Moon! Loved it! :)

The Dan Ward said...

Hey, thanks! Good luck picking out a new cell phone. My only suggestion is to know what you want before you go into the store. Don't let them sell you more than that. Easier said than done, I know!

Glad you enjoyed the moon book too!