Does quality sell the product?

Form and aesthetics always attract the buyer. However, when he/she has to make the purchase, does the product’s quality form the ultimate decision factor?

I have noticed that people are more and more critical of product’s quality and reliability (that’s in hardware and software products as well) . They will go as far as spending hours reading reviews about it.

So is quality becoming a big topic in design and does it really sell the product?

Is quality the ultimate decision factor? It depends on the product. Quality has always been important.

Of course that doesn’t mean people don’t sometimes still buy things at the dollar store that they know will disintegrate after one use. Just take Harbor Freight vs Craftsman. Real people know the Craftsman tool will last them a life time of hard work. With that said, I have plenty of tools from Harbor Freight knowing that with light usage the cheap stuff will probably be “good enough” for quite a while.

Ultimately it depends on your product, market, and your audience.

A good question to ask is, “what qualities of a product signal quality?” Price can do it. Price can signal high quality, by being highly priced, regardless of actual quality, and price can signal general-use quality, by being low in price.

I doubt that quality forms the ultimate decision factor. It may be too difficult for the average consumer to project too far into the future with most common purchases. If they’re spending hours reading reviews, it’s not because they’re specifically looking for quality, it’s because they don’t want to miss out on something that other people have discovered about the product; it’s social in the end. If there were a super high quality flip-phone, I imagine most people wouldn’t buy it, because the reaction to using it in public wouldn’t be the same as pulling out an iPhone 5S.

I think if all other things were equal (aesthetic connection, brand resonance, compelling marketing, innovative and relevant features, price, distribution availability) then yes, quality would sell the products. The same could be said of any one of those other factors if quality was equal and on top of that all things are never equal.

I agree. They may not be looking specifically for quality, but there is a social element to good quality. Owning high quality products shows status in the sense that the user can afford the product as well as having the intelligence to select the product with the highest quality.

So while financial and intellectual status are different, at the end if the day they are both linked to social status.

Quality builds brand. Brand promises quality. The promise sells product.

If you KNOW the product is shit, through reviews, word of mouth etc - would you still buy it? I think the probability drops waaay down.

Either way - more important than the “quality vs price paradigm” is “value for money”. As CD mentions hand tools - some do their job just fine for occasional 2 times/year light use at home. Meanhhile a professional contractor would wear out a B&D drill before lunch. His time to go the shop and get a new one would cost MORE than the new drill. One QUALITY tool would be cheaper than 5 shit ones. High price, great value.

At the same time other tools are beaters, for example knifes. Even if there are those that can survive ridiculous abuse they could cost 100 times more than a perfectly functional equivalent. In that case you are too afraid too use it or lose it and it sits at home. Great quality, terrible value.


It might be linked, but it’s not the whole story. Believe it or not, people use (many) products to be productive, not just seek status. Having a crap product can induce irritation, waste time, and money in the long run. I buy quality for that reason, not the social status. In fact, when possible I try to get those with invisible branding, or debadge if possible.

TLDR: Value sells product, and value is determined by your customer.

Define quality.

Quality could mean that the product doesn’t break. It’s durable, robust, etc.

Quality could refer to the experience of using the product.

Many of the products that I hear referred to for their quality, often have higher amounts of defects and recalls than other products referred to as cheap. However, the experience of using the products is substantially higher and they always deliver excellent customer service to deal with the defects.

As for what sells product, I would focus on the human element. Without sales people, you have no sales. Marketing and publicity help generate demand. Design is entering more and more into this phase as design can drive a lot of free publicity. Then comes engineering and design to ensure reliability and quality.

Take a look at the question in slightly different ways

  1. How much more money is the consumer willing to pay for quality

2.What is the consumers expectation of quality
In china people buy a blender for 19.99 and expect it to last a year, In America most Americans buy a blender for 19.99 and when it breaks in a year they complain and call it a piece of junk (this situation is a great point of discussion)

  1. What does the consumer define as quality

  2. How do you communicate your quality in a sea of commonality…

Quality is a difficult thing to research with users for a few reasons.

First because it is pretty qualitative. (for example VW for years had amazing fit and finish in the interiors, which felt quality… but the reliability ratings were low… a car with high reliability ratings might not feel quality)

Second, when asked, no one will say “I want poor quality goods”. They will always respond with “I want the highest quality” yet their purchasing behaviors at places like Walmart and Target will show behaviors that seemingly contradict their answers.

This is an issue my company deals with. We make more premium products than our competitors, often out of wood or extruded aluminum housing (yes designing 5ft extruded aluminum speaker housings is cool :wink: ), with over engineered components that will withstand more than a user can throw at them. for example, in a recent comparison pitting car audio sub woofers against each other, ours was the only one that didn’t blow when the amps were maxed even though our power ratings were lower (ie we didn’t exaggerate on our packaging). The build quality is so high we stock replacement parts for products going back 20+ years and if you buy a pari of our speakers at a garage sale with a busted driver, we stock, will send you a new driver and talk you through installing it over the phone… this level of quality and service results in a premium price of course, and many people decide to purchase a cheaper product even if the audio and build quality is lower.

It is really on us to demonstrably convert quality into value. Showing that while it costs more upfront, you will have it longer and it sounds better equaling better overall value. This is a difficult task.

Would love to hear if anyone has any case studies on this?

There was a metric we used at my old company called Total Cost of Ownership. This was pulled from industry numbers such as total sales combined with facility manager polling. TCO somehow combined a purchase price with maintenance prices over the normalized expected lifespan of the product. In a way, it allowed us to advertise “better quality”.

Another tool I learned about from an engineer there, was a sort of Pareto Priority Index (I think), which created equivalencies between user’s preferences or feedback on what constituted ‘quality’ - for example, the feeling of smoothness - with a dollar amount spent on that component. It was brutally honest in communicating to this designer that my pretty, smooth, curvature-continuous plastic shrouds meant less to the customer’s perception of ‘smoothness’, than ball bearings…despite costing as much or more… :open_mouth:

It’s also that people don’t bother returning cheaper stuff. They never expected it to last, they don’t make much noise when it doesn’t.

That is very true, and exactly why you need to find out the purchasing pattern, too find out what customers consider added value worth paying for. Simply going by a spec sheet and beat all the competitors by 1 measure unit on all points is meaningless.

I’m in the same boat, premium hand tools. It’s pretty hard to convince someone why they should buy a crowbar for $150 there in the store, when they can get a bent pipe for $10-20. There are of course many reasons, but often someone would have to already have bought 2-3 scrap steel rods made out of your recycled cat food cans that snapped on them and shrapneled into their eye before they are converted.

To come back to the original question: personally I believe the trend is turning back to quality products. The throw-away culture and consumerism are fading, people care more about sustainability, human rights, and the future of their own country (domestic made).

When I started design school 10+ years ago, in the description of the course there was a line “Yesterday people competed with quality. Today with price. Tomorrow with design”*. I think the 2 latter points got more focus during recent decades, but now it’s circling back around to quality.

*I somewhat disagree with that statement and believe that quality, price etc etc are only pieces of “Design”. Companies have always and always will compete with Design, although priorities will continue to shift.

Quality is king at my current place of employment.

We also command a significantly higher (sorry I don’t know the exact figure) premium over every competitor.

In nearly every category we hold an 80%+ market share.

We are able to do this because we provide an ROI, literally, proving our quality saves our customer money. We have a department that their sole job is to track compliance of our products and track the savings our customers have. We send monthly or quarterly reports to our customers, depending on what they want.

I want to believe this but the scale of mass big box retailers does not support your thesis. Personal interactions with decision makers at retailers is another data point in the opposite direction. The focus seems to be:

Brand (marketing pull)
Promotions and distribution flexibility
Price (in lieu of marketing pull) (for some retailers this will be first no matter what)
Scalability
Design
Quality

Denying this doesn’t do us any favors. We need to understand it and show how design and quality help build marketing pull (get people in the stores with the intent to buy a specific product, pre sold mind share). In my experience that is the key in consumer goods.

Iab’s example is a good case study. They built an internal machine that proves quality and turns into marketing by the distribution of information.

in a nutshell, no, quality is not enough to sell the product because there are too many other production factors and user needs that need to be fulfilled to really sell the product.

i’ve worked on mostly housewares, electronics, personal care, kitchen appliances/gadgets. a factor often used to distinguish quality in these industries was consumer and prosumer level goods. the consumer level was run of the mill type, another branded skin job over some o.e.m. components for xy big box retailer. the prosumer goods (as in professional user) use much higher quality components and are designed to last longer and take more abuse than the consumer counterparts. the engineers would set up jigs for the protoypes to test cycle the usage and help determine the quality of the internal components, the designers would do drop testing and so on.

aside of the safety requirements of planned obsolescence (designing a product to fail after a specified amount of usage), it has always baffled me why products can/should not be designed for quality usage far beyond a lifetime. i mean with today’s materials science, nano-mechanisms and so on, i want some products to last several generations and still be usable ! my old roommate who had a japanese cooking knife that has been in her family for 6 generations, handed down each time, it had her family name etched near the bolster - i want more products to have this kind of quality and meaning. i know it’s not applicable to all products but i think it is now critical that we design a significant number of products that embody components and technologies that stand the test of time, generations of time. and not just for the sake of it.

i guess my aspiration for quality is close to what phaedrus defined it in ‘zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’:
‘it is the event at which both the classic (scientific, intellectual) and romantic (emotional) awareness of an object is possible.’

nice answer Poojo, read “Zen…” about 18 years ago, might be time for a revisit.

I’ve been thinking about this question:
“Does Quality sell the product?”

And I think the best answer is actually a series of questions:
What product? To who? When? Where?

It all depends on the situational circumstances. We all have niche areas of our lives where we will spend more on product. For some of you it might be an insane road bike, for me it is more likely something like a classic pea coat, or a really nice travel laptop bag… then there are other areas, likely the majority of areas, where quality is just not a priority. With limited resources [time for research, availability of goods (ie if the quality really is that amazing, I want to try it out myself], money, mainly money) we are all forced to prioritize our expenditures.

After a certain price point across all consumer goods, quality becomes a factor.

Take construction tools for example. If you shop at Harbor Freight, you are buying a disposable tool where you KNOW (consciously/subconsciously) that the quality is poor… Quality is not why you buy it, you buy it for price and convenience. Some guys would rather spend $40 on a power tool that has to be replaced 3-4 times before investing in a $300 power tool they can have for the next 5+ years.

Quality only seems to come into play when a user is familiar with the product or has a past history/knowledge base of using them. Is “Joe the D.I.Y Guy” going to go to Lowes and buy a $199 DeWalt drill for his home? Maybe…but probably not, a Black and Decker OPP Drill for $39 will work just fine.

I know personally. I don’t expect my $9.99 Skull Candy headphones to be the same quality as headphones that are 10x the price. However when it comes to buds, because I typically break, ruin, or lose them on a bimonthly basis…the quality is fine…Buds have become disposable in my mind. I personally will never spend $100 on buds for the simple fact that I’m almost positive I will lose them from past experience.

Well, you know the saying - every Harbor Freight tool eventually becomes a hammer.

I also agree that it all depends on how quality and value are defined for a particular product and to whom - target audience. I keep thinking of the original Dre Beats headphones in this conversation. At first, one would think the quality would lie in the sound reproduction and a relationship might be made to it’s price point in that regard and then a comparison of sound quality of similar product in that price point. But the defined “quality and value” of the original Dre Beats headphones was different; something else was being offered more than just sound quality, yet the product sold well.

For me, I tend to think of custom, or bespoke products as having more value, partly because I feel more confident they will fit my needs and wants. Maybe it is the designer in me, but in a lot of cases it seems like any company that will design/produce a product to my specs is taking a more hands-on or craftsmanship approach and hence more attention to detail than would be found with the majority of mass produced products. That, and in some cases custom products are a 1 of 1, and I think originality, uniqueness, and rarity contribute a lot to my perception of value.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality_(business) has a great definition from the American Society for Quality:

“A combination of quantitative and qualitative perspectives for which each person has his or her own definition; examples of which include, “Meeting the requirements and expectations in service or product that were committed to” and “Pursuit of optimal solutions contributing to confirmed successes, fulfilling accountabilities”. In technical usage, quality can have two meanings:
a. The characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs;
b. A product or service free of deficiencies.”

I think that quality is a product living up to its advertisements as well as the product itself not getting in the way of what I bought it for.

“No.”
*
Thank you C4B7 (sounds like you are a bot) for providing workable definitions
towards Rays question of “what quality”.

In my experience it doesn’t. Quality is no driver in the initial purchase decision,
as customers have come to expect, that even a cheap product will hold up for
a satisfactory amount of time and will be able to “deliver”,
but as they say: “Quality is what makes the customer return, not the product.”

Which would mean, that the first product really meating the customers expectations,
and being defect free for a reasonable period of time would give you repeat purchasers.
Thus making “quality” much more a necessity for products with a short life cycle and
high sensitivity on the customers side. (convinience food)

In my experience, though, the Henry Ford quote of “Quality is doing it right when
nobody is looking.” doesn’t make much business sense.
I have come to learn the hard way, that quality is only feasable where the customer
is able to decipher it. We mostly do products, which are used in industrial manufacturing
and evaluated by engineers. Those guys know exactly what to look for.
But the purchasers are mostly MBAs…Those “suits” often can’t tell a turd from a nugget.

So you have to cut some corners to stay “competitive”, even if it means that you lose
some defect free life time and usability that your product could have provided for
only a little more.

In my previous job designing for rather high end consumer goods there were many
simular experiences. There was a range topping product, which was of lower than
average quality, but could boast being “hand crafted by experts”. Well this artisan
work yieded results with slight blemishes and defects, that the mass market siblings
did not have, but those lacked the oldworldly charm.

On the other hand we did a series of Solingen scissors and as far as I understood
10 years back the blades had to be sharpened by hand as there was no machine to
sharpen blades out of forged steel.
Those Solingen manufacturers took a lot of pride in doing the blades of household
scissors that way (costly). There were imitations out of Asia, which had blades simply
stamped out of sheet metal.

Guess what, today the original manufacturer does also offer the household scissors
with stamped blades. They are at the forefront of the shops and selling like hot cakes,
priced at double of the “cheap” imports and 2/3 of the original price. Very obviously
most people purchasing scissors do not care about “quality” at least not the kind of
quality that expert metal craftsmen would expect…

And this might exactly be the reason why a VW today still has tight shut lines and nice
paint finish but much more potential defects than the old beetle.

mo-i