Consumers spoilt for choice

Too much focus on choice is confusing consumers. To avoid alienating them, marketers must give their products a more distinctive edge.

Are marketers trying so hard to “innovate or die” that they are confusing consumers with too many new products and services? A survey conducted by RSGB for innovation company CLK suggests this is the case, with a third of consumers saying they are offered too much choice in products and service.

The survey of 1,000 people revealed that there is a high level of confusion and cynicism among consumers about new products and how they are marketed. Ninety-one per cent of respondents agreed that manufacturers and service providers exaggerate the benefits and advantages of new products.

While over half of consumers – 56 per cent – felt they were being given the right degree of choice, a significant number of consumers find the degree of choice overwhelming. Only ten per cent of consumers said they had too little choice.

CLK head of marketing Marcus Mitchell says: “You can’t market choice or whole ranges to consumers, because they choose particular products or services. They want to make an easy, confident selection.

“Marketers need to develop ranges that distinctively position their products against the competition and make choice within the range straightforward,” says Mitchell.

The study reveals that consumer satisfaction with the levels and clarity of choice varies significantly across sectors. Traditional impulse and packaged goods, such as confectionery and washing detergents, fared best, with over half satisfied that there was enough choice. However, even in these sectors over a fifth of respondents said they were confused.

Not surprisingly, consumer confusion over new technology areas, such as mobile phones and digital TV, was much higher.

When it comes to the degree of choice in offers and discount schemes, such as BT’s Friends and Family, consumers were almost equally split between those who were confused about what was on offer – 40 per cent – and those who were satisfied – 42 per cent.

This suggests marketers are not finding the right balance in the trade-off between clarity – to attract consumers initially – and sufficient complexity to encourage customer retention. This is especially the case in markets, such as telecommunications, where the tariff or price is effectively what the consumer is buying.

The survey looked at choice in new product design to see whether research and development departments are creating too many bells and whistles for the latest widgets. A third of PC users didn’t know how all the buttons and features on their computer worked. Thirteen per cent of washing machine users and 15 per cent of TV and VCR users did not know how to use all the features on their products.

When asked about their main motivation in choosing a mobile phone, the vast majority of respondents – 63 per cent – said price. Nineteen per cent chose safety, while only six per cent said advanced features, such as Internet access, were a key attraction. The survey revealed that 25 per cent of mobile phone users don’t know how to use all the buttons and features on their handsets. This suggests that there is a need for innovation on the basics of buttons and simplified pricing.

The study also assessed consumers’ response to a number of recent product and service launches. It found that even when their awareness of innovations was taken into account, consumers were more motivated by new concepts in traditional product areas, such as Sunny Delight and Persil Tablets. This demonstrates that simple product innovation has significant appeal and translates into commercial success.

Although Internet-based services were well received, respondents said they would not necessarily use them. Seventy-one per cent of consumers considered Tesco Direct a good idea, regardless of whether they would use it.

Mitchell says: “Companies are coming under more pressure to innovate and are increasingly tempted to take a scatter-gun approach, but they are not adequately ensuring a new product or service’s fit with business and are not coming up with a compelling consumer proposition”.

It is clear from the survey that marketers introducing innovative products or services have a challenge on their hands. They must ensure relevance to consumers’ lives and deliver effective marketing without over-promising.

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