Technology changes overnight and with these swift advancements comes a plethora of new, useful features. Now your phone can listen to your conversations and remind you about things you mentioned. Your refrigerator can tell you that you’re out of milk. When we go to buy something, we focus on features rather than usability. When I purchased my last smart phone, I bought the one the salesman showed me that had all the neat “tricks.” I didn’t consider how I use my phone (calls, internet, work email, social media, blogging, photography). Instead, I decided it was really important to have a phone that could call someone if I yelled at it and could share a contact by bumping it against another phone (though I have never used either feature). And now my phone is barely hanging on and I wonder if it is because it’s imploding itself on all its cool features. It has so much going on, it’s dying! This phenomenon is called “Feature Fatigue.” It was defined in a 2005 study by the following statement: “Because consumers give more weight to capability and less weight to usability before use than after use, they tend to choose overly complex products that do not maximize their satisfaction when they use them.”
For manufacturers, “feature fatigue” means they must decide between making the product more attractive initially or long-term customer satisfaction. Products with tons of cool features are very attractive initially, but when all goes awry because usage slows or basic functions are hard to figure out, customers will equate that frustration with the product brand. Companies that succeed are companies that do one thing better than anyone else rather than dabble in everything at a mediocre level. This is the principle of the famous Bruce Lee quote: “I fear not the man that has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” The research on feature fatigue is focused on the manufacturing side. Studies are attempting to help companies navigate this difficult issue. On one hand, boring products don’t sell well. On the other hand, if you get home with your new purchase and can’t figure it out or things start breaking, you’re never going to return to that company for products.
For consumers, feature fatigue means that we’re not making the right decisions when we choose a product to purchase. We get caught up on the flashy options and that detracts from the overall usability and longevity of the product. In some cases, the marketer will create a sense of ownership over those features by allowing you to “customize” the product. Since you are now in the “creator” position, of course you want to create the greatest product possible! So you add the biggest this and the extra that and end up with a highly featured and “specialized” product. In the end, you’ll probably be frustrated with those features.
A 2005 study in the Journal of Marketing Research, researchers looked at feature fatigue by performing three separate studies:
- In the first study, 130 participants were asked to evaluate three different audio players or video players and then pick one to perform a series of tasks. 62.3% chose the option with the most features, 28.5% chose the middle option, and only 9.2% chose the most basic model. They also found that the option with the most features was favored regardless of self-defined expertise about audio/video players. Everyone wants the thing with the most stuff.
- The second study asked 141 undergraduate students to imagine they were going to purchase and download a digital audio or video player and they could customize it to choose the features they wanted. They were given 25 different features they could add to the product they were going to purchase (but they were told their budget could include as many or as little features as they wanted so they wouldn’t be swayed by potential costs). On average, they chose 19.6 features out of 25. All the things! We need them!
- Study three is where things get more interesting. 190 participants were given one digital audio or video player: one that had 7 features and a 4-page instruction manual OR one that had 21 features and an 8-page instruction manual. They were asked to perform a series of four different tasks with the player they were given. After doing this, they were asked to pick a product from the same three options given in study one. This time, however, they had experience with either the high-featured product or the low-featured product. Before use, 66% of people chose the high-featured model, but only 44% chose the high-featured product after actually using it.
We sabotage ourselves by thinking we want/need/can actually use all the features offered. If we actually tried to use the product before purchasing, we might change our choice. Next time you’re in the market for a product, try to look past the flashy features and the customization and think about what you actually plan to do with the product. What are your top utilization priorities? Stick with those.
Have you experienced feature fatigue with something you’ve purchased? Or have you been able to talk yourself into the base model? If so, how?