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

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.

What is the best way to build customer loyalty for your product?
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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…