World Class Faculty & Research / April 17, 2006

Feature Fatigue Research Proves Simpler Products Are Better Manufacturers Advised to Lose Extra Features So Customers Want to Come Back for More

College Park, Md. April 17, 2006 For anyone who uses just half the buttons on their cell phone, or has spent hours poring over a new users manual only to give up in frustration, recent research from the University of Marylands Robert H. Smith School of Business explains why too many product features result in a phenomenon called feature fatigue.

The researchers found that a product crowded with features may be more attractive to consumers in the store, but too many features ultimately make a product overwhelming and hard to use, which leads to dissatisfaction with the product and perhaps even with the company that manufactured it.

Simpler is better despite popular wisdom and a marketplace ingrained in the creation of products that are ever smaller, faster and more feature laden, said Roland Rust, co-author of the article and the executive director of the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Marylands Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Our research showed that consumers will be initially attracted to the mobile phone that does everything for example, but once they get it home they become frustrated, Rust said. Companies can actually make more money in the long run by making products that are simpler than what customers think they want. The smarter strategy is to design simple, dedicated devices like the iPod, that do one thing very well, to build long-term satisfaction and profitable customer relationships.

The research was described in the article, Defeating Feature Fatigue, in Februarys Harvard Business Review. The article was based on a series of Smith School studies that included an in-store experience that allowed participants to choose from products based purely on features, as well a later study that allowed for interaction with several different models of virtual digital video players. 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 66 percent preferred the model with the most features, the later study also showed that when people actually had a chance to use the product, 56 percent preferred a simpler model.

Consumers can avoid the feature fatigue trap by first trying out a product, and comparing several, before buying, said Rust. Chances are they will be more satisfied with a simpler product with less features.

The article, co-authored by Rust, assistant professor Rebecca Hamilton, and PhD candidate Debora Viana Thompson, was based on research conducted in the Smith Schools Netcentric Behavioral Laboratory, with support from the Marketing Science Institute and the Smith Schools Center for Excellence in Service. Details of the research appear in Thompson, Hamilton and Rusts article, Feature Fatigue: When Product Capabilities Become Too Much of a Good Thing, which was published in the November 2005 issue of the Journal of Marketing Research. Thompsons doctoral dissertation proposal, based on the research, won the Marketing Science Institutes 2004 Alden G. Clayton Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Competition.

Note to Editors: For copies of Defeating Feature Fatigue, and Feature Fatigue: When Product Capabilities Become Too Much of a Good Thing, please contact Carrie Taschner, phone: 301-405-5833, e-mail:

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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