Friday, December 28, 2007

Digital merchandising helps combat 'feature fatigue'

There's admittedly not much new info about kiosk or digital signage projects in this recent article by MTI's Jason Goldberg on CE Pro, but they did introduce me to a term that I hadn't come across before: feature fatigue. Simply put, it "refers to electronics customers and their overwhelmed state in researching and becoming acclimated to new products and their—you guessed it—feature-laden natures."

I consider myself a fairly tech-savvy guy, but I can identify with this phenomenon. Even the relatively simple task of selecting a new digital camera for my mom this past Christmas proved it true: I wanted to be able to pick up and handle the different models, so a bricks-and-mortar store was a must. But at the same time, it was hard to compare the features listed on the little tags next to each model, and the sales reps were hampered by big crowds and a lack of detailed product knowledge, so a link to the 'net (and product manufacturer websites and reviews) was also a must.

But I'm guessing I'm one of the few people who will still go into a store and whip out their smart phone (a Blackberry in my case) to look up additional product info. Even "big screen" phones like the iPhone are limited by screen size and connection speed.

An in-store kiosk or smart POS would have been an ideal solution in my case, but sadly the store I was in lacked both. Not surprisingly, Goldberg's firm MTI makes such devices (as do many other companies, of course). Their favorite bit of kit is an item pull, barcode or RFID-based system that lets customers retrieve product information simply by handling the desired item. But when it comes to trying to figure out the pros and cons of various electronics, I find that nothing beats physically handling the different products, and then using one of those comparison matrices to pull out the salient features and compare them head to head. Once I have a product that looks/feels goods and stacks up well against the competition, a quick check of popular product review sites lets me know what past product owners have thought about their purchase.

It's an elaborate system that probably only increases my feature fatigue, but given how complex buying something even as simple as a camera has become, I'll take it over buyer's remorse any day.

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1 comment:

Jgoldberg said...

Hi Bill,

One point of clarification. MTI's "favorite bit of kit" is actually to take products out of their shipping packages and glass display cases and put them in the hands of consumers. That's the overwhelming majority of work we do. Integrating digital merchandising into those experiences (such as the SKU activated merchandising experiences you describe) is growing in popularity, but still a small minority of the work we do. So I'll happily agree with your comments about your desired shopping experience.

What I consistently find when I watch shoppers shop a product category is that most shoppers with the exact same shopping mission, self-sort themselves into three basic shopping modes.

Assisted sale customers, who will immediately seek the help and advice of a sales associate if available. (my mother for example). In this case the most useful merchandising tools are the ones that assist the sales associate.

Self-service customers, who will use whatever tools the product manufacturer and retailer give them (or that they bring in themselves), but who generally prefer not to interact with the sales associate during the decision making process (for example myself, and expect you). These customers will give a strong preference to shopping environments that provide useful tools.

Hybrid customers (the largest single group), who prefer to gather some basic level of information before they are willing to interact with a sales associate, but who will ultimate want to get some live advice before completing a purchase decision.

So the challenge for a retailer in overcoming feature fatigue is to build an environment that serves all three shopping modes. (sales assist, deep product research, and basic product research). We've found that SKU activated merchandising is one of the tools able to do well for all three.