Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Consumer Choice, Consumer Confusion

Recently, I needed to buy a new face moisturiser, as my old one had run out. I wasn't terribly thrilled with the old stuff, so I decided to go on the hunt for something new. And that's when the confusion set in.

While it's fantastic that companies have created separate lines to cater to their customers needs, often, it seems there's so little differentiation between them, or the difference is unclear, that I'm at a loss for what to buy. Take the face moisturiser. At what age am I supposed to 'graduate' into anti-aging? What's the difference between the blue line and the sport line? And when should I use balm, moisturiser, or cream? Just take a look at the biotherm homme line. There's anti-fatigue, anti-pollution, anti-age, dry, normal, goes on and on.

OK, maybe skincare is unique, since it's trying to target a problem. But then look at the CK men's underwear line. There are at least 5 lines of what appears to be the same product at similar price points. There's so little description that it's hard for me to know what the difference between 365, steel, and stretch underwear is, and what each of the benefits might be.

I'm not saying it's a problem per-se that there are so many lines, after all, we know that product segmentation works. But when the products are at similar price points, and are similar products, it can be difficult for consumers to know what to buy...and so they may end up simply going for the cheapest one. By creating "customisers," in websites, brands empower consumers to choose the best product for them, acting as a consultant in abstentia. Nivea has done this, and while it's not perfect, it's getting there. I would argue that the best kind of customiser would narrow the range down to a single product, to truly make the customer feel that this is the 'right' product for them.

It amazes me that more personal goods companies haven't figured this out. For instance, how long would it take to make a customiser on the Brooks Brothers site that would help me figure out what tie I want? It could ask for the pattern of shirt (stripe, gingham, etc.), the size of the pattern (hairline, large check, mini-check, etc.) and the color(s) involved, and then suggest a couple of ties that would match. It's providing a service to your customer that keeps them coming back. Plus, it's fun.

Bottom line, if you've got a couple of lines in your product range, help us consumers out and put a customiser on your site.

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