Research: Product Comparison and Pricing Tables

Research: Product Comparison and Pricing Tables
Apr 6th, 2009

Quicken Product Comparison Table and Wizard

As some of you may know I have been doing a lot of research lately on product comparison tables.  I had a pretty good conversation with Michael Angeles about this.  One of the better ones I found was at Quicken interestingly enough.  Michael has since then published an article that details the Quicken Product Comparison Table and Wizard. I also found some other great resources and came up with a few conclusions through my research.  Here are a few of them that I cataloged.

Resources

I also twittered and asked for pointers to good product comparison tables and Rahul Pathak

pointed me to a post at 37signals about the design of their new Highrise signup chart, while more of a pricing chart for various packages than a detailed product compairsion for my needs, it was helpful to see how they worked through the process of organizing the information and designing it.

After I was sent that resource I stated to wonder if my terminology was off somehow here.  So I started researching pricing tables in stead of product comparison tables and came across a Smashing Magazine article on Pricing Tables: Examples And Best Practices.  While I wouldn’t call this a best practice by any means it did show me a ton of different examples of pricing charts and some included a little more depth with a product feature comparison with the pricing.

Via twitter Olivia Zinn mentioned how she liked the ability to highlight differences between producs as demonstrated on the Best Buy website once you have selected two or more products to compare.  Cindy McWilliams also mentioned this as well. Tyesha Snow pointed me to some sketches she had done for the product comparison feature for mobile devices.  These came in handy to see how it would work with physical devices.

Conclusions

Through all of this the only conclusions that I can draw is that every type of product is different, some can be compared with a short list of attributes while others require a much more detailed comparison and in some cases actually showing technical specification data as a metric of comparison.  For a user to be able to make heads of tails of all of this some sort of filtering is required to either highlight the differences or summarize the features into categories.  So there is a technical need to display differences and similarities of products.  All the more reason to do information architecture (wireframe, sketch, or write a brief technical definition) on what things need to occur within the product comparison.

Furthermore, Derek Featherstone indicated another conclusion that could be drawn from this when he said to me “I think part of the issue with product/comparison tables is the notion of ‘good’ - def’n changes depending on user’s motivations/need.”  Based on what I researched this is also true.  Sometimes users want very specific information about a product (e.g. “How many HDMI inputs does this receiver actually have because I need 4.”)  While in contrast some user may not want this much detail (e.g. “Will the receiver work with my VHS player?”) So the user needs very greatly and change from person to person.  All the more reason to create three personas to define who your users really are.

Somewhere between all of this is the business needs of selling products and often each product specification and feature is carefully defined prior to its creation to set a specific product from one company against a specific product of another company and thus the products within the same company have a common tiered product structure with the products of another company (generally speaking).  So there is a business need as well.  All the more reason why its important to define business goals for the product comparison up front and create a competitive analysis of the product space.

This brings us full circle to talking about finding the sweet spot between technical needs, user needs, and business needs. Which is exactly what we try to do every day at Blue Flavor.

About the author

Nick Finck is a user experience professional who has dabbled in the web for over a decade. He specializes in information architecture, interaction design, usability and user research. Read more

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