Collateral Damage: Killing a Killer Feature

My friend Nevra (so named long before the Bratz doll craze) lamented to me the other day that her Whole Foods --> grocery store had stopped carrying dried herbs and spices in bulk. These items are still offered in jars, but for a much higher price-per-ounce.

Only a sometimes-cook, I wasn't even aware that Whole Foods stocked bulk herbs (maybe the one near me doesn't?). But Nevra is a fantastic amateur chef, almost on par with professional Chef Darla, so exotic herbs and spices are a required staple for her culinary endeavors. (In food as in software, everyone’s needs are different!)

Alas for Whole Foods, their decision has produced effects far beyond herb and spice sales. Nevra isn’t one to pinch pennies, but the cost difference was enough to shift my friend’s shopping patterns. She now tacks on a stop at one of 3 different specialty ethnic markets on her way to Whole Foods whenever she needs herbs or spices. She's not happy about the inconvenience, but now that she’s making the additional trip anyway, she's starting to buy many of her other groceries at those markets too. Apparently the change in price for herbs and spices was enough to put her over the edge… and through the doors of the competition.

This little vignette eventually got me thinking about similar occurrences in software. In the software you use every day, what's the one killer feature for which you'd change your loyalty to get / get back?p

Whole Foods has now diverted baskets and baskets of business per month elsewhere, all because they stopped stocking one seemingly-insignificant, apparently unprofitable group of products. They've also created a disappointed customer who's talking about it with all of her friends, who are telling their friends and random blog readers. Nevra might even take her friends with her to other stores, where they'll get hooked on interesting new foods and substantially lower prices. You wonder if "Whole Paycheck" incorporated these side effects into their business analysis?

On the software development side, how much business has your company lost because of a single feature that drove the customer to the competition? Granted, in software we rarely take features away intentionally (ok, occasionally we kill support for a particular platform or something like that). But what about those unintentional changes, such as when we "improve" a feature but disallow what we think is an obscure use case in the process, or when our fast, beautifully-simple product evolves into something slow, cluttered, and difficult to use?p

As an equally-important -- and much more common -- consideration, how many happy customers can you gain by offering a much-needed feature that no one else has? (We think Code Collaborator 5's new ability to review images, PDFs, and URLs will be that killer feature for many users. But of course, if you have suggestions for critical features for our code review tool, please leave a comment or tell us on our feedback site!)

Anyway, you get the point: as software developers, it’s critical to truly understand what’s important to our customers, in order to avoid inadvertently killing our killer features. And of course, to make sure we build as many new ones as possible.

Do you know what your product's killer features are?p Or, coming at it from the other side, are there any Nevras out there who would buy your product, if only you stocked ”bulk herbs and spices”?


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