There are few things more satisfying than telling a story about yourself, and hearing it told back to you with validation and approval. That’s why horoscopes and Hogwarts house quizzes are so popular. And it’s often all that’s going on when you buy into a company’s pitch for “personalised” health or beauty products.
Or actually, there’s one more thing: when you take the company’s quiz, pouring out your life story and hopes and dreams, they can also collect that information, tie it to your email address, and sell that data or use it to market more stuff to you. But the customised product itself? Usually not worth it.
How many options are there, really?
The quickest way to find out whether a personalised product is for real is to figure out how many different types of products actually exist. For something like a custom wedding dress, you’d be picking out fabrics and design elements and providing detailed bodily measurements. All of that information would go into the end product, and your dress would fit you like a glove and look like nobody else’s.
But with many customised products, after you fill out the company’s survey, you’re plopped into one of a very few categories of customer. In the case of shampoos, as Shannon Palus noted when writing about a custom shampoo company, there are only really four types: deep-cleansing, moisturising, baby, and anti-dandruff.
Or, for a more dramatic example, take protein powder. There are many types, but only a few popular and useful ones. Whey protein (made from milk) is cheap and good and is the no-brainer choice. If you’re lactose intolerant, you may want a brand that takes extra pains to separate the protein from the lactose. And if you’re vegan, you’ll want a plant-based powder instead, ideally one with a similar amino acid profile as whey. So that’s two or three options.
You’re often just paying for a fun quiz and a monogram
I took Gainful’s protein powder quiz, curious to see what it would recommend. I currently use an unflavoured whey protein. After tapping through screen after screen describing my workout habits, my goal body type, and more—well, then they wanted my email. But after that, I finally got my recommendation: a whey protein powder. With some casein thrown in, which isn’t really any better than whey.
There’s probably nothing wrong with the protein powder they were trying to sell me, except that it costs $72 for 30 servings (and they wanted to send it to me on a subscription plan, of course). My regular brand costs half that. I’d be essentially paying $36 for the protein, and $36 for the added value of having my name printed on the package. Paying extra to put your name on a thing is called a monogram. If the grocery store offered to write my name on my protein powder for an extra $36, I would say no thank you.
I’m not saying personalised products are never worth it: maybe you like the way your custom shampoo smells, or you appreciate that you can take a quiz and not have to think about the ingredients in your protein powder. But if instead of taking a quiz you just take a minute to google up your options, sometimes you can save a lot of money and just get the thing you need at the store.