For consumers, having an ever-widening array of products can be incredibly alluring. Makes us feel like the belle of the ball, with everyone courting our hard-earned dollars. And choice can be great for encouraging competition in favor of the customer. But in the ever-expanding world of technology, can there be too much of a good thing?
Seems so. Study after study shows that human beings experience less satisfaction, even paralysis, in the face of too many choices. This has become a well-discussed point in general retail, but it doesn’t seem to have made it to the tech sector. Over the last few years, we’ve grown used to things like 500+ cable channels, a multitude of ways to consume online or wireless media, and a tidal wave of smartphone and other mobile devices hitting the marketplace.
Well, at least one company seemed to have snapped out of it… only thing is, it just snapped back in again. Yeah, HTC, I’m looking at you.
Remember this tidbit from January 2012?
…we want to create more of a ‘hero’ approach. We make great phones, but it is hard to do that when the portfolio is spread too much. … So 2012 is about giving our customers something special. We need to make sure we do not go so far down the line that we segment our products by launching lots of different SKUs.” — HTC’s UK chief Phil Robertson
So much for that. HTC just unveiled three new handsets for the U.S. market (AT&T): the HTC One X+, VX, and Windows Phone 8X. The One X+ is basically a souped-up One X; the One VX is on par with the One V; and the WinPho device is brand new. And all that follows the previous One series phones — the One X, V, and S — as well as the HTC EVO 4G LTE and DROID Incredible 4G LTE. Further complicating things, HTC has bestowed carriers like Sprint and Verizon with unique HTC brands (EVO, DROID, Incredible), which may require a “hero” strategy for each one.
Smartphone fans/tech heads may be able to follow this, but for everyday consumers, it’s quite a load to parse. And, says the research, even if mainstream customers wanted to, doing so wouldn’t make them any happier with their ultimate purchase.
According to Barry Schwartz, who literally wrote the book on the topic — The Paradox of Choice — there are two distinct types of customers: The “Maximizers,” who research everything about a product category before making a buying decision, and the “Satisficers,” who look into it a little, but go with something they consider “good enough.” Which one do you identify with? If you’ve ever seen a new phone model and it made you feel worse about the formerly sexy new gadget you only just bought, then congratulations — welcome to the Maximizers camp. This crowd tends to dig hard into all the details to make the best purchase possible, and after all that time, still winds up with something it has doubts about.
Now, guess which one tends to be more satisfied with their purchase. Overall Satisficers are generally happier, and since they spend less time mulling over a zillion options, the experience doesn’t wear them down or prevent them from enjoying other things.
The obvious example of a company that appeals to Satisficers is Apple. Whether you love or hate it, it’s hard to deny the success and sales of its iOS products — yes, even with the Maps debacle and iPhone 5 scratches. That’s certainly not due to bleeding-edge hardware or attractive price points, but at least partially because — aside from legacy gadgets — there aren’t a sea of device variations to confuse people or dilute its brand image. There’s no iPhone Pro, iPhone Pro Light, the iJunior, or iPhone Pro Jr. Super-Mega+ 4G LTE all launching with other slight tweaks or different names across the carriers.
For HTC, a little self-restraint could go a long way. If it could stick to its guns and hone that “hero” strategy, the company could kill two birds with one stone — position its brand as a premium offering and help increase levels of customer satisfaction. By not raining handsets down on the market, it would be doing something few major manufacturers seem willing to do — proving that less can be more.
What do you think? Should HTC or other mobile makers scale back product offerings to put out fewer, but more iconic devices? Or do you think they should continue releasing several versions and models at their current pace? For some food for thought, check out Barry Schwartz’s TED speech from 2005 (below) on modern consumers and the nature of choice.