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Profitable Strategies For Presenting Products with Multiple Options

by Debbie MacInnis  |  
January 1, 2001

A comb. A book. A can of soda. These are simple products. What you pay for is what you get nothing more, nothing less.

But some products go a bit further, offering consumers choices about which set of options, if any, they want to include with the base product. Dell, for instance, offers bundled software, zip drives, game devices, and speakers with a basic computer; Palm Pilots can be bought alone or with accessories and additional software; even the simple bike comes with a lock, a water bottle and a headlight if you want them.

Some experts say that offering such options gives customers the chance to design a product around their personal preferences what marketers call "mass customization." Ideally, this marketing strategy increases customer satisfaction and loyalty to the brand.

All well and good. But one question remains: How should these options be presented along with the base model?


You, the marketer of a product or service, have at least two ways of presenting options. On the one hand, you can tell consumers that the product or service has a base price, and that for an extra charge they can choose from a list of product enhancements. The marketing field calls this an additive option strategy because consumers can add whatever options they want from the base model.

For instance, let's say you are selling a car with a base price of $18,000 and $4,000 in options. With an additive option strategy you tell consumers that they can add certain options to that base model. Consumers have complete freedom to add none of the options and buy the car at $18,000, buy all of the options at a cost of $22,000, or buy some subset of the options at a price somewhere between $18,000 and $22,000.

There is a second way of presenting options. You can offer the product already fully loaded, and allow the customer to lower the product's price by subtracting options. Marketers call this a subtractive option strategy because consumers can delete whatever options they don't want from the fully loaded model.

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Debbie MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration and a professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. She is co-author of a recent book on brand admiration, which blends years of best-practice thinking from academia with the real-world practice of marketing.

LinkedIn: Debbie MacInnis


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