Reports

Feature Fatigue: When Product Capabilities Become Too Much of a Good Thing

Debora Viana Thompson, Rebecca W. Hamilton, and Roland T. Rust, 2005, 05-101

As technology advances, it becomes more feasible to load products with a large number of features, each of which individually might be seen as useful. While both economic theory and current market research techniques suggest that increasing the number of features will make a product more appealing, too many features can make a product overwhelming and hard to use.

In this report, Thompson, Hamilton, and Rust investigate how consumers balance their competing needs for product functionality and ease of use when evaluating products.

In three studies, the researchers show that consumers understand that there are usability costs as well as capability benefits when features are added to products. However, because consumers give more weight to capability and less weight to usability when they evaluate products prior to use than they do when they evaluate products after use, consumers tend to choose overly complex products that do not maximize their satisfaction, resulting in “feature fatigue.”

Thompson, Hamilton, and Rust use the results of their studies to build a simple analytical model that provides additional insights into the feature fatigue effect. Several important managerial implications emerge.

First, from the perspective of customer lifetime value, choosing the number of features that maximizes initial choice of the product results in including too many features. Second, if the number of features is sufficiently large, then additional features should not be added, even if they may be added at no cost. Third, as the emphasis on future sales increases, the optimal number of features decreases. Fourth, the results suggest that firms should consider the development of a larger set of highly segmented products with a limited number of features rather than loading all possible features into one product.

Debora Viana Thompson is a doctoral candidate, Rebecca W. Hamilton is Assistant Professor of Marketing, and Roland T. Rust is David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing and Director of the Center for Excellence in Service, all at the Robert Smith School of Business, University of Maryland.

Related links

Customer Satisfaction and “Feature Fatigue” (2005) [Article]

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