Product Is Form or Function

Topics: Usability, Utility, Usability testing Pages: 13 (3978 words) Published: January 4, 2008
As technology advances, it becomes more feasible to load products with a large number of features, each of which individually might be seen as useful. However, too many features can make a product overwhelming for consumers and hard to use. Three studies examine how consumers balance their desires for capability and usability when they evaluate products, and how these desires shift over time. Because consumers give more weight to capability and less weight to usability before relative to after use, consumers tend to choose overly complex products that do not maximize their satisfaction when using them, resulting in "feature fatigue." Choosing a number of features that maximizes initial choice results in the inclusion of too many features, potentially decreasing customer lifetime value. As the emphasis on future sales increases, the optimal number of features decreases. This suggest that firms should consider having a larger number of more specialized products, each with a limited number of features, rather than loading all possible features into one product.

A common way to enhance and differentiate a product is by increasing the number of features included (Goldenberg et al. 2003; Mukherjee and Hoyer 2001; Nowlis and Simonson 1996), providing greater functionality for consumers. This strategy has become especially popular as new developments in electronics and information technology (e.g., miniaturization and integration of electronic components) have allowed products to include more functions, yet cost less and require less time to be manufactured (Freund, König and Roth 1997).

While each additional feature provides another reason for the consumer to purchase a product (Brown and Carpenter 2000) and may add desired capabilities, too many features can make products overwhelming for consumers, leading to dissatisfaction and "feature fatigue." Anecdotal evidence suggests that consumers do not use all of the features of the products they buy (Ammirati 2003), and even more significantly, empirical evidence suggests that consumers may experience negative emotional reactions such as anxiety or stress in response to product complexity (Mick and Fournier 1998).

Why do consumers seem to be making choices that do not maximize their long-term satisfaction? One potential reason is that consumers do not make a connection between increasing the number of product features and the difficulty of using a product. Another is that consumers understand that products with more features will be more difficult to use, but because features are bundled together, they are forced to buy features they do not want in order to get features they do want. Finally, consumers may understand that products with more features will be more difficult to use, but give ease of use too little weight in their purchase decisions.

Examine how consumers balance their competing needs for functionality and ease of use when evaluating products. First, we measure the effects of adding product features on two distinct product dimensions, the perceived capability of the product and the perceived usability of the product. Look at the degree to which consumers consider usability relative to capability when evaluating products before using them. Third, take into account the relative weights of capability and usability in consumers' expected utility (before use) and experienced utility (after use) and take into account significant differences in these weights before and after product use. While previous research has focused on either pre-usage evaluations such as purchase intentions (e.g., Carpenter, Glazer and Nakamoto 1994), or post-usage evaluations such as satisfaction (e.g., Bolton and Lemon 1999) and usability (e.g., McLaughlin and Skinner 2000), integrate these perspectives by comparing evaluations of products before and after use.

Both economic theory and current market research techniques predict that increasing the number...
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