Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Experience: Shopping as a Product Designer

One would think shopping for a product designer would be easy, and if not, then how much more difficult for the average consumer?

What I noticed recently when shopping for a space heater is that it is no easy task to discern a good value when comparing products in the retail space. The fact is that with so many retailers selling the same brands to the same customer segment how do they all stay in business?

My Story

I was able to comparison shop between five major retailers all within blocks of each other (Target, BestBuy, Lowes,Sears and Home Depot). And what I discovered was the weight of finding the best product value has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the shopper. But sorting through an overwhelming number of choices is not for the faint-at-heart.

After doing my online research which included visits to retailer sites and social shopping sites that offer users opinions and comparing heating technologies and materials(i.e. convection, radiant, oil filled, ceramic and microthermic etc.). I headed out to shop for a good heater. Having five retailers so closely situated allowed me to quickly comparison shop and to my amazment discover a little manufacture/retailer secret.

The secret is that the products are not the same. Each retailer had in stock a different model of the same brand of heater as the retailer up the street. It is the feature differences that allow each retailer to use pricing structure that if used alone could lead an unaware shopper to think that they found the lowest price for a particuliar brand heater. This would not be the case, thus the customers are not finding the best value but only the lowest priced item in the category. So without considering the feature differences of seemingly simuliar products it is now harder to comparison shop.

Manufacturers have learned how to survive in a retail space full of big-box competitors by "tweeting there products". They are using a different feature mix on the same brand product when sold through a different retailor. And this strategy leaves the customer with a more difficult task of comparing apples to apples.

Slate Article on Shopping for an Iron

No comments: