Too Much Choice Is Bad: Customers Don’t Want To Do Your Job For You

by drjim on November 2, 2009

Asda Is About To Make A Terrible Product Management Mistake...

Asda Is About To Make A Terrible Product Management Mistake…

Shopping for groceries is a pain. Being forced to do a grocery store’s job for them is a bigger pain. The U.K. supermarket chain Asda (owned and operated by Wal-Mart) is #2 in their market and they want to be #1. Their product managers have come up with a truly horrible plan to get there.

A Bad Plan From The Start

Sure, product managers everywhere would like to find a way to get closer to our customers. The grocery store business is no exception – it’s hyper-competitive. However, over at Asda they’ve gone too far.

The Adsa product managers believe that they can gain more customer loyalty if they give them more of a voice in how the stores are run. Wait a minute, I don’t really WANT to have to tell Adsa how to run their stores – I just want to shop there and have everything just be right.

One of the things that the product managers are going to do is to give 18,000 of their existing customers access to products before they are launched in the stores. Umm, where I come from we call this a focus group.

Touting this as a new customer outreach program is stretching things just a bit. It’s also not clear if the folks will get these goods for free, or if they’ll just be able to buy them before other people can. How excited can one get over having the ability to buy a new type of cracker before everyone else?

Why is Asda doing this? One of the drivers is that their CEO has publicly stated that he feels that customer loyalty cannot be bought with points or discount vouchers. Once again, what? I don’t know about you, but YES my loyalty to a grocery store can be bought when they offer me discounts based on the products that I actually do buy!

The Thinking Behind A Bad Product Plan

As is the Wal-Mart way, Asda positions itself in its markets as a low cost provider. They spend most of their time advertising their competitive prices. This has not been enough for them to overtake the #1 grocery chain in the U.K. Tesco.

The Asda product managers are hoping that by involving their customers in making decisions about how the company is run, they will be able to build as much loyalty as the other grocery store’s discount programs do. One technique that will be used is to put in web cams so customers can see how the firm runs: one at a local dairy, another at a carrot-processing plant, and yet another at the company’s head office. How incredibly boring will that be?

Just to take the foolishness one step further, Asda will be building what they are calling a “transparent store” where glass brick will replace brick walls and customers will be able to see back into parts of the store that are normally not visible. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think that I want to see how the meat is being cut into steaks or the fish is being de-scaled. Some things are better left to the imagination.

What All Of This Means For You

Don’t make the same mistake with your product that Adsa is getting ready to make with theirs. I predict that this new plan of theirs is going to have a very short shelf life. It is fundamentally flawed.

Yes, I can understand how it started – at an Adsa brainstorming session someone suggested making the company more open and letting the customers dictate how the company was run. Where things went wrong is that they missed the fact that I don’t want to have to tell my grocery store how to do things, instead I want them to understand what my needs are and then shape how they do things to me.

The same goes for your customers. They really don’t care about your product development process or what your product support area looks like (get rid of the web cams!). They don’t want to go to work for your company.

Instead, what they want are the product features that they need even before they know that they need them. They want support that is so good that you fix things before they know that they are broken. What they really want, is for you to do your job product manager.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I don’t care if your product turns lead into gold, if your salespeople don’t go out there and do a good job of selling your product then you won’t be a product manager for long. I’ll agree that you are not running the sales department, in fact you are probably not even part of the sales department; however, your product’s life depends on what that department does with your product so you had better start managing your salespeople…

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth Robinson November 2, 2009 at 3:29 pm

One of my employer’s products has a rabidly loyal following because it works. The installers who use it don’t get as many call-backs, which means they make more money, and thus put up with the fact that it’s a little harder to apply and costs more than the competitors.

We sell other products in that same area and make money on them, but even those installers who choose to use the other options, for various reasons, all know about the premier one. Some of its reputation rubs off the other products which are positioned to meet slightly different needs.

In some businesses a desire to customize the experience could be a driving force. Fashion, perhaps, or a gourmet grocery, but I’ll take “it just works” for my everyday utilitarian grocery store anytime.

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Dr. Jim Anderson November 8, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Beth: you bring up a very good point! In our product manager castles we sometimes like to dream up fantastic new features that we believe that everyone will just fall over themselves to get. However, the reality is that most of our customers just want us (and our products) to make their life simpler. How many times have you gone to a grocery store looking for a particular item and been totally clueless as to where (or even if) it was located? If somebody could solve that problem, then I would * always * shop there…!

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Gopal Shenoy November 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Interesting article Jim. I have no idea what the driving factor could be nor can I think of how successful this could be. As you have said, I want to get in and out of a grocery store as fast as I can. Get the stuff I need and get out. I really don’t care about how the operations are run. And I don’t think Brits operate that different from how we do. Strange indeed!

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Dr. Jim Anderson November 8, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Gopal: In trying to figure out what’s driving this odd push, the only idea that has come to me is that perhaps there is a great deal of pressure coming down on the product managers from the higher levels in the company. In my work experience, that’s when I’ve seen the really silly ideas get taken too far…!

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maggie November 13, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Wow, speaking as a customer I can tell you these are really bad ideas! I don’t care about what’s going on in your office or your back room! I just want the products out there on the shelves, the employees out there to provide service when I need it, and enough cashiers on the floor so I don’t have to wait in line for 30 minutes behind a crying baby. I want a clean store and want to be able to buy the products I like at a fair price, and not find my favorite items have been discontinued. Do your own jobs in an efficient and careful manner and I’ll be a loyal customer.

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Dr. Jim Anderson November 15, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Maggie: Of course I fully agree with you! Can you understand where these ideas may have come from? My bet is that they’ve flowed down from senior management (based on my work experience). Do you agree or do you think that they may have come from somewhere else…?

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