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Finding the balance: infolust v info overload

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15th Mar 2007
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By Lucie Benson, features editor

We are now entering an age where the mature, switched-on consumer invests a great deal of their precious time online in search of detailed and relevant information about anything and everything. Whether it is the cheapest available fare or price, or reviews and recommendations from experts and fellow consumers on anything from the best hotel in Bangkok to a best pub guide downloaded to your mobile phone, consumers are desperate for trusted sources of information and expect to be able to find it.

The insatiable feeling of being better informed before doing anything or going anywhere is becoming addictive. Consumers need instant access to a wealth of information and they need it now. And so here begins the trend of ‘infolust’.

Reinier Evers, founder of www.trendwatching.com, an independent trend agency, says: “Experienced consumers are lusting after detailed information on where to get the best of the best, the cheapest of the cheapest, the coolest of the coolest, or on how to become the smartest of the smartest. Instant information gratification is upon us.”

He adds: “The driving force behind infolust is a basic human need; in this case, it is the need for power and empowerment, or at least the illusion thereof. Information, knowledge and being in the know are power and now that infolust can be satisfied instantly, and millions of consumers have had a taste of the new, transparent world of information distribution, expectations about access to information have been raised.”

With the trend of infolust looking like it is set to continue, organisations need to be asking whether they are providing customers with every price, product, comparison, and story element possible. Plus this information needs to be available to customers wherever and whenever they need it most.

Double-edge sword

However, with this comes the risk that the public is being bombarded with too much detail to sift through. What happens when there is just too much to choose from? Has choice become a double-edged sword? Certainly some firms are confident that the complexity of choosing has increased, and as such we are now seeing efforts from companies to reduce customer complexity. But how are the public responding to these efforts?

Research conducted by market analysts Mintel found that consumers agree there should be a wide range of information available, especially for high-value purchases. However, many are confused by the way such information is presented. The report found that there is a need for clear, factual information, presented in a way that makes it easy to compare products.

Mintel's research concluded that, although the commercial world is becoming increasingly complex, and consumers are being faced with more and more choices and decisions when making purchases, they are quickly learning how to operate in this climate, and finding ways to use it to their advantage.

The travel industry is a good ‘infolust’ example of where customers can find detailed information on every part of their planned trip by searching online, yet it is also a business where customer complexity can be rife, so organisations are now working to reduce this.

For example, travel company Expedia bought online travel community, TripAdvisor, the largest travel community in the world. With more than five million unbiased reviews and opinions, it helps its users to hone in on the information they need by featuring forums and real advice from real travellers.

It would seem that the public are reacting well to TripAdvisor. “I find TripAdvisor is an indispensable aid for travel," writes one consumer at review community ciao.co.uk. "Personal reviews are so helpful…and you simply will not get this much candid information on a corporate run travel site. I have used TripAdvisor to help choose hotels several times now, always with very pleasing results. TripAdvisor is the first place I look to when I know I'm going away.”

Simple format

Another organisation looking to reduce customer complexity, by making house moving easier, is Rightmove.co.uk. Consumers writing on Ciao have called Rightmove an “invaluable source of information” and described it as being “very well laid out, clear, and very easy to use”.

One consumer also wrote: “It is a useful service because instead of trawling around all the estate agents either on foot or online, I can search most of them in one place”. Don Hedley, a consumer trends analyst at Euromonitor, says that websites that help consumers to find the best products, get the best deals or receive personal recommendations, such as TripAdvisor, Amazon and the many price comparison sites, are extremely popular.

“You can see that the customers absolutely love them because of the customer-generated content on them, where you can, for example, buy a product, search it and then find out what 100 people who have also bought it, think of it; plus they can disagree with the manufacturers,” he says. “And that is customer empowerment that we have never had before. You can see it is a very seductive thing and you only have to surf around the web to see how much it has become a part of online life.”

So are efforts to reduce customer complexity growing in popularity? “If you define reducing customer complexity by marketing simple explanations, then yes, these efforts are becoming more popular because you can see that the customers want it,” comments Hedley.

He adds that customers are always looking for a simple way to receive a great deal of information. “Customers want the complexity in a simple format, and now they are actually getting it, because there is always a piece of customer-generated data which will simplify a complicated explanation.”

Read more features, practical case studies and white papers about customer trends and how to improve your customer value proposition.

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