Choice and Customers
By webmink on Jul 09, 2007
For those of you who were on vacation last week, welcome back! I ran a series of stories last week looking at places around the house where there are multiple "standard" formats for things and what the impact of them is. To recap, I looked at:
- Choice and Light Bulbs, in which I noted that choice that serves the customer involves having as few different connectors as possible and lots of choice of light bulbs in that format.
- Choice and Flash Memory, in which I observed that I wish I didn't have to keep buying memory cards for my different gadgets just because the format in use varied, and how some formats seem designed to actually reduce customer choice.
- Choice and Power Supplies, in which I looked at the power supplies all my gadgets come with and observed there were so many different, vendor-serving choices in play there that I am swamped with power adaptors, but how a solution from an unexpected direction - USB - may be the answer.
- Spending this time looking round the house for examples of multiple standards has been useful for me. It got me to tidy a load of stuff that had been sprawling across the study, yes. But it also led me to some conclusions about the value of having a choice of standards.
- There are plenty of examples of a choice of "standards" in our lives (usually validated in some way by a vendor body), but I have yet to find one that actually leads to a benefit to the customer. In the cases I have found, it arises from:
- Vendors trying to create customer lock-in, like Sony and the Memory Stick;
- Subsequent versions of a prior format being developed, like the Memory Stick Pro;
- Vendors trying to reduce their costs, like those choosing to only offer 110v wall wart power supplies;
- Vendors trying to create an after-market, like those selecting custom power plugs in their gadgets so you have to buy their in-vehicle adaptor;
- Vendors operating in a market that is fundamentally divided, like those choosing between SBC and SES sockets for their bulbs.
In other words, I have yet to see a case where a choice of standards in a single area delivers benefit to the customer. I can see all the benefits it's bringing to the vendors in the cases above, but it's also causing them unnecessary costs. But customers? No. I remain unconvinced that a choice of standards for a given application does anything for them.