Article | Journal of Marketing Research (JMR)

The Social Utility of Feature Creep

by Debora V. Thompson and Michael I. Norton


Previous research shows that consumers frequently choose products with too many features that they later find difficult to use. Our research shows that this seemingly suboptimal behavior may in fact confer benefits when factoring in the social context of consumption. Our studies demonstrate that choosing products with more capabilities (i.e., feature-rich products) provides social utility over and above inferences of wealth, signaling consumers' technological skills and openness to new experiences, and that consumers' beliefs about the social utility of feature-rich products are predictive of their choices of such products. Further, we examine when impression management concerns increase consumers' likelihood of choosing feature-rich products. We find that public choices in which participants display their preferences to others encourage feature-seeking behavior, but that the anticipation of having to use a product in front of others provides an incentive to avoid additional features.

Keywords: Customers; Demand and Consumers; Consumer Behavior; Personal Characteristics; Goods and Commodities; Research; Economics; Experience and Expertise; Learning; Technology Adoption; Utilities Industry;


Thompson, Debora V., and Michael I. Norton. "The Social Utility of Feature Creep." Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) 48, no. 3 (June 2011): 555–565.