In the consumer driven world, choice seems to be everywhere. Gone are the days where you could only have the model-T in black. You can now have the model A-Z, in any colour.
How does choice work in the computer industry? The IT world is constantly changing and most people don’t have the time or care to stay informed; and yet consumers are still offered a large amount of choice. Does this customisability make it too difficult for the consumer to choose what they want? Are we making the purchasing experience too stressful? Will there be a rise of default computers? Will customers finally rise up and say, “you tell me what’s good”?
Dell computers used to be the one place computer savvy people went to make sure they bought the system they wanted. The Dell website allowed people to customise almost every aspect of the unit; hardware, software, casing and lighting, everything. In the mid-2000’s this changed, Dell now relies on pre-built default systems with some minor customisation. This new method gives people just enough customisability to make them think the unit is ‘theirs’ but stops them from having a buyers overload.
There are some obvious consumer benefits to default systems. The units can be made quicker and cheaper for example. When performing tech support the technician doesn’t have to spend an hour working out exactly what is in your unit. These, however, are benefits the consumer can see and understand. It’s the benefits they don’t understand that should keep them coming back to a default system.
A fully customisable system relies on consumers knowing what they want and understanding how it goes together. In the computer world it is a full time job staying on top of what is available.
Imagine you’re going online to customise and order your new computer; exciting right? Let’s get started.
Okay processor first, well that’s easy, I know exactly the one I want. Wait that isn’t the best anymore, or even the second best. Time to go and learn all over again what I thought I already knew.
6-hours and 6 coffees later.
Okay so now I know what I want, time to start putting it all together. Except that those two pieces of hardware aren’t actually compatible, maybe I’ll just have to upgrade the first one. Wait now it’s too expensive, I can’t afford that. Okay downgrade the second one instead, damn that won’t play that new game I really wanted. Maybe if I just alter a few other things.
3 hours and 3 Redbulls later.
Okays it’s the right price. Not quite what I wanted, but you win some you lose some. Time to review the specs I set. Wait is that right? I’ve changed it so many times I’ve forgotten where the hell I started. Let’s review the specs.
2 hours and 4 espresso martinis later
Okay, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I’ve raised the price a little so I can at least be satisfied with my purchase. It’s only a little higher; I’ll just order that. Wait, why are you now asking me to customise peripherals?
1 hour and a handful of nodoz later.
Okay it’s ordered. It’s going to take two weeks to build, longer then I was hoping, but that’s okay. It’s what I wanted; sort of. For the price I was willing to pay; kind of. Oh god what did I buy?
Congratulations! Through your initial ignorance you have ended up with something that is uniquely yours. It’s too expensive, going to take a while to get to you, and isn’t quite what you wanted, but hey it’s yours.
A default system on the other hand, though also not being quite what you wanted would have been cheaper and already on its way.
Numerous studies on consumer behaviour around decisions have all shown that with increased alternatives, attributes and uncertainty the consumer gets overwhelmed cognitively and emotionally. This normally has the effect of the consumer not making a decision or relying on other people to make the decision for them (in the form of default systems in the computer world).
These studies have shown that the default systems lower stress, thereby making the buying experience more enjoyable and the customer more willing to come back or recommend the retailer to friends. They have also shown that a customer is more willing to accept when the default system isn’t quite right because it wasn’t them that made the decision.
Where choice among defaults was available the choice was much easier as the alternatives can be easily compared against each other. Defaults do not require the consumer to go to expert websites and learn new things as the attributes are always simple and easily comparable. The consumer can also rely on word of mouth and user generated content as it will always be about a limited number of options, one of which will be the one they are looking at.
Yet here’s the weird thing. Dell suffered major consumer backlash when switching onto a default system. Dells share price went so low that the original private investor, Mr Dell, bought all the shares back. Dell had massive customer service issues as well at the time but the lack of customisability formed on half of the complaints. Dells experience is contrary to what the studies found, yet it happened. The modern consumer wants choice; just make sure there isn’t too much.
In the computer world, full of ignorant people, the consumer still wants to be able to customise something they don’t understand; or at least it seems like a good idea to them before they start. In today’s society consumers think; as frustrating as it is to not know what you’re doing, it’s even worse to not have a choice.
Marketers need to find the balance between enough choice to lure consumers but not so much that the consumer gets scared away.