What Is a Figure of Merit?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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A figure of merit is a type of assessment of performance as it relates to the function of a system or device. Typically, this figure is represented as a point along a scale, and may involve comparing the merits of the device or system with similar products as a means of arranging that scale. The idea behind the figure of merit is to provide consumers with an idea of the benefits received by choosing one product over another.

The general concept of a figure of merit is to determine how a given product or system measures in comparison to an established standard or to a similar product on the market. This is sometimes managed by assigned some type of numerical value to that product based on the standard used. For example, if the standard for a particular design of laptop battery is a charge life of five hours and a specific make and model of that battery has an average charge life of seven hours, it may be granted a numerical rating that is very high. On a scale of ten, with five being the average, the seven hour battery may be granted the status of eight, signifying to consumers that this particular battery offers above average performance.


Rating the performance of various products is a common approach in marketing. The ability to present a product as offering high quality and ratings that are above the standard or average can often broaden the appeal, which in turn opens the door for additional sales. Just about any type of good or service can be assigned a figure of merit. Using this system, it is possible to rate or assess the quality of sound that is provided by a pair of stereo speakers, the ease of use associated with an Internet tablet, and even the quality of the resolution achieved with a specific make and model of digital camera.

Arriving at a figure of merit requires establishing a standard by which all similar products are judged. Depending on the nature of the product and the way that the product review is managed, the process may be very uniform and scientific. At other times, the figure of merit may be arrived at more subjectively, such as in allowing a number of consumers to participate in the evaluation, using their comments to determine how the product measures up in comparison to another product. In any application, the process of arriving at a figure of merit can provide valuable information that aids in enhancing the nature and appeal of a product and increasing sales, something that just about every manufacturer wants to experience.


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