Sunday, August 31, 2008

Simplicity can be bliss

Product innovation and continual product improvement are two of the main mantras of US business. In many industries it is "improve or die".

However, product improvements and innovation for their own sake can be a strategy misstep and should be aligned with consumer desires.

Take In-N-Out Burger, for example. This western (California, Nevada, Arizona & Utah) burger chain has maintained a simple and stable menu (see picture) for many, many years and their customers love it. They offer just a few items but they do them all exceedingly well. No chicken sandwiches, roll-ups, salads or breakfast here. Just how many hamburger patties and do you want cheese? Only one size in servings of french fries, shakes and coffee.
Obviously In-N-Out does not try to be the fast food outlet for every fast food buyer. They know their customer base and focus on them.
Living in an area of the country without any In-N-Out Burger outlets, I continually get comments like "wish we had them here" from complete strangers when I wear one of my In-N-Out t-shirts.
In-N-Out keeps its customers in mind and those consumers want few (if any) changes. Such simplicity and limited product assortment is not for all firms but businesses need to take care not to innovate their products away from their customers' desires.

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