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Bad idea: updating products for no real benefit to the consumer

I’ve been a product manager and been to business school. We all learned about the cows, dogs and stars via the BCG Growth-Share Matrix.

But there comes a time when so-called innovation is just annoying to your consumers. That happens when you take a product that is working just fine and you “improve” it to the point where is it just doesn’t meet customer needs or wants.  This often happens when a product is no longer bringing in the revenue it did once, or when management want to increase revenue from a product.  A typical solution to this is a product refresh. The idea behind this is to take a successful product and tweak it a bit to drive better sales and it is often used as an excuse to increase retail price.

An excellent example of this phenomenon is the Berlei company who make a bra called Barely There Contour. For many years this bra has been the staple foundation garment for working women around the world. This product – while not pretty or fancy – made the wearer look good, was entirely functional and could be worn all day in comfort at work and then into the evening if necessary. The straps were extremely comfortable and it was by far the best bra to wear for a twelve hour stretch; plus it looked good under either business or casual attire.  It was a great bra for travelling in – it was a favourite to wear for sitting on a plane on long business trips.

I suspect that this product was, for Berlei, a cow as per the matrix above. And there is always an interesting decision to be made in changing products. Do you create a new product, do you enhance the old one, do you create a line extension?

In this instance existing loyal customers are faced with the “Berlei Barely There NEW REFRESHED Contour Bra“. This product refresh has not been a success from my perspective. A line extension might have been a better alternative.

What does that mean? Well it means that the once comfortable straps that used to make it my bra of choice are now painfully narrow ones that dig into my shoulders and make me conscious of wearing a bra (when it should be the last thing on my mind).

It also means that the newly refreshed Berlei Barely There Contour (BBTC) model now has straps that even when extended to their fullest length are not long enough for the bra to sit comfortably under my bust. This again is an uncomfortable feeling, and I suspect that it contributes to the digging in of the now too narrow straps.

I wore one of this new model out yesterday to meet some friends for yum cha. While sitting waiting for them to arrive I was extremely conscious of how the narrow straps of the BBTC were digging into my shoulders rather painfully, and how it was not sitting comfortably under my bust. This has never happened with the old model of this product (of which I’ve owned more than ten). I could not wait to get home and remove the damned thing.

Many friends who were fans of this product have reported similar experiences to me. In fact, one of the women at yum cha recounted precisely the same experience and asked if I’d found a viable alternative product.

It makes me wonder did Berlei actually try out this new “refreshed” model on any actual consumers? Did they have a clue why the old model of this product was one of the most popular bras?

Sadly Berlei have now lost a customer and loyal brand advocate. I need something I can put on at 6.30 am and wear all day in the office and then head out to a function in the evening after work. I need something that makes me look good and is so comfortable I don’t even notice I’m wearing it.

Thanks Berlei for “improving” this product. Hope that works out for you. In the meantime I’m looking for an alternative product. If anyone has tips on alternative products please let me know.  If anyone has stock of the old model please do let me know – I’ve got some friends who’d love to take those off your hands.

By the way I’ve got two of these new model things that will be sent back to the place where I bought them. It’s a real pity that I’ve already worn the other one. Looks like that one will be going in the bin.