ever purchased an electronic
device—a remote control, a coffee maker, a DVD player—only to get
home and find out that it is too complicated? You’re not alone. Most
people put too much weight on the number of features a product
offers and don’t give enough consideration to its usability--at
least not until they get home, try to use the product, and in
frustration finally chuck it into a drawer where it will never again
see the light of day.
This phenomenon is called feature fatigue, and
if you’ve ever spent twenty minutes fiddling with your remote or
trying to figure out how to program your VCR, then you have
first-hand experience with it. Smith PhD candidate Debora Viana
Thompson, Assistant Professor Rebecca Hamilton, and Roland Rust,
the David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing and Director of the
Center for Excellence in Service, examined feature fatigue in a
series of studies using the Smith School’s Netcentric Behavioral
Laboratory, with support from the Marketing Science Institute
and the Smith School’s Center for Excellence in Service.
In a series of three studies, Thompson, Hamilton and Rust
showed that consumers give more weight to a product’s capability
benefits and less weight to a product’s usability before they
use the product than after they use the product—despite the fact
that a product’s usability strongly influences their
satisfaction with the product.
The research culminated in a study which used the
capabilities of Smith’s Behavioral Lab to allow participants to
interact with an actual product—several different models of
virtual digital video players. These virtual products allowed
participants sitting at the computers in the lab to actually
watch movies, record, adjust various audio settings, and use the
fast forward and reverse buttons—just as they would with an
actual DVD player.
“The Lab was such a great resource. I can’t imagine how we
would have done the study without it, because the key aspect of
the study was allowing participants to interface with the
product,” says Thompson.
After using one of the virtual DVD players, participants were
asked to rate their satisfaction with each product. While the
“in-store” study showed that people prefer to purchase products
with more features, the third study showed that when people
actually had a chance to use the product, they were more
satisfied with the simpler version.
Feature fatigue can be an important consideration for
manufacturers and product designers, who don’t want their
product languishing in a drawer or gathering dust on a shelf.
“There is a trend in the market to pack a lot of features into
one single device, like cellphone which can do everything—take
photos, connect to the Internet, manage your calendar. Based on
our results, this may not be the best strategy, especially for
firms interested in building long-term customer value,” says
A product crowded with features may be more attractive to
consumers in the store, but too many features make a product
overwhelming and hard to use, which leads to dissatisfaction
with the product and perhaps even with the company. Even though
people want more features, companies need to balance initial
purchases against long-term satisfaction and repurchases. They
could eventually lose market share if people are consistently
and systematically unhappy with their product.
“When it comes to keeping a client over the long term,
product satisfaction may be more important than just having an
initial sale,” says Thompson.
The research paper based on these studies, “Feature Fatigue:
When Product Capabilities Become Too Much of A Good Thing,”
co-authored by Thompson, Hamilton and Rust, won the Marketing
Science Institute’s 2004 Alden G. Clayton Doctoral Dissertation
Proposal Competition and was accepted for publication by the
Journal of Marketing Research.