I know that this is kind of a strange question since we should all know ourselves pretty darned well. However, recently I read about a research project from the University of Michigan that focused on how consumers use self-assessments as a guide for what products to buy, yet have little idea on how their actual skills and abilities compare to other consumers. Why does this matter? Well, it often means that when they purchase products intended for a particular skill and/or knowledge level, they often choose incorrectly and don’t get the positive experience they expected.

The research pointed to two fairly simple studies to prove the point. In the first, half of a group putted golf balls 10 feet from the hole, while the other half putted from only 3 feet away. Now you don’t have to be a golfer to know that you’ll sink more 3-foot putts than 10-footers. Surprisingly, though, those that putted from the shorter distance felt that they were superior golfers because they sank more putts. Therefore, they were much more likely to purchase higher-end golf equipment because they felt like their skill level warranted the best equipment. (Now, I can speak from experience when I say that their expectations were probably very high on the first tee box, but their attitudes changed dramatically by the 18th green.)

In the other study, half of the participants answered very simple questions about photography, while the other half dealt with difficult and tricky ones. Once again, the ones who handled the easy questions felt that they were above-average photographers and preferred more advanced cameras than the group who dealt with the harder questions.

What does all this mean to retailers? Smart retailers will always try to steer their customers to the right product in order for that customer to have a great experience and, of course, remember where they purchased it. However, according to this research, many consumers don’t truly know their skill level and will often purchase a product that is more advanced then they can handle, thus creating a bad experience that will often be blamed on the retailer and/or product.

I can think of several times when I excitedly purchased something and expected the product to improve my skill level, but was highly disappointed with the results. Has this ever happened to you?

At least now I know whom to blame (and I guess my wife has been right all along). It wasn’t a product deficiency or the retailer’s fault for pushing me towards the wrong product in order to make a sale.

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