Mass Customization Maybe Offers Too Many Choices

Posted by: David Kiley on June 8, 2005

Procter & Gamble’s decision to kill its mass customization experiment, Reflect, a highly touted pilot in mass customization of beauty productsn caught my attention because of one , I thought, ridiculous number.

The business offered more than 10,000 shades of lip gloss. It reminded me of a classroom story I heard once about a lady who sold preserves at a Farmer’s market. She had five flavors and sold more than she thought in just an hour. Wow, she thought. If I offer fifteen kinds of preserves, I’ll clean up. So, she came back with 15 flavors. It took her longer to sell less product. The Farmer’s market customers, it seems, were just stymied by all the choices and moved on to the bread table instead.

Consumers, it seems to me, want choices, but also simplicity and clarity. We don’t have time, or interest, in perusing 10,000 shades of lip gloss.

Reader Comments

consumerguy

June 8, 2005 1:25 PM

All mass marketing comes down to offering consumers and customers Value For Money. Offer a quality product at a reasonable price that is easy to use and have after-sales service by trained staff. Once the shopping experience is made friendly and comfortable, the businesses will ensure themselves of repeat customers,also meaning, repeat sales and profits. Sounds logical.

Satisficer

June 22, 2005 9:05 PM

This is exactly Barry Schwartz's thesis in his book "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less": we are overwhelmed by too many choices, which increases our stress in trying to make the "best" choice.

Alan Zuckerman

June 25, 2005 6:56 AM

The overwhelming increase in choice goes well beyond food and cosmetics: mortgage choices, retirement savings choices, sources of information for work/school/personal use, methods for treating diseases, etc. The more bewildering our choices are, the more experts pop up in our faces to help us navigate. Unfortunately, in almost every case these experts have an angle. Either they represent one of the choices (hoping to steer us to that particular option) or are in the market to cash in on our bewilderment by convincing us we need to pay them significant sums to help us navigate through the treacherouus shoals of 401k plans, alternative therapies, a dozen competing television technologies, etc. The bottom line is, the more that business can confuse us with choice, a) the more things we think we need and b) the more money we throw at biased experts who are reaping the benefits of our confusion. Confusion creates business. I believe we should discipline ourselves to remind ourselves how simple our needs really are in most cases and screen out all those irrelevant and unnecessary choices. In other words, when you visit the toothpaste section of your supermarket, ignore the critical issue of whether you need to whiten your teeth more now than in the past (no--which eliminates the need to choose between baking soda or some other whitening agent, neither of which does very much), remind yourselves that your teeth will stay healthy if you use fluoride toothpaste and floss every day, and head straight for the seemingly boring choice of plain old toothpaste. Do not let yourself believe that you are missing a boat, hurting your health, or behind the times. Oh, and you'll save money too.

julie pierce

June 25, 2005 12:29 PM

All the suppliers have the notion that the more variety they give the more shelf space they can get.
At times it works and sometimes it doesn't.
Walmart at times in individual stores can be seen over doing it for one company they like.
Shelf space if you can't get more shelf space the idea is you can't sell enough.

julie pierce

June 25, 2005 12:30 PM

All the suppliers have the notion that the more variety they give the more shelf space they can get.
At times it works and sometimes it doesn't.
Walmart at times in individual stores can be seen over doing it for one company they like.
Shelf space if you can't get more shelf space the idea is you can't sell enough.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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