Too Many Choices Spoil the Sale

Aug 01, 2002

Columbia University’s Dr. Sheena S. Iyengar and Stanford’s Dr. Mark R. Lepper found that providing too many options, especially when the differences are small, can overwhelm customers, and decrease sales and buyer satisfaction, reports The New York Times.

The social psychologists cite two experiments that prove the point. In a Menlo Park, Calif.-supermarket, two jam-tasting displays were set up. One had six jams, and the other, 24. Of 242 shoppers, 145 stopped to taste at the display of 24 jams. Only 97 stopped to taste at the six-jam display. Yet only seven of the 145 tasters at the 24-jam display actually bought a jar of jam, while 72 of the 97 tasters bought jam at the six-jam display.

In another test, one group was asked to buy chocolate from a selection of six Godiva flavors. Another was asked to select from 30 flavors. Afterward, those who bought from the selection of 30 said that their chocolate was less tasty, less enjoyable and less satisfying than did those who chose from six flavors.

Another psychologist, Dr. Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore, says when options multiply, two things happen. Buyer expectations go up. Then the letdown is greater. Because with 100 options, “you have no one to blame but yourself if you choose poorly,” writes John Malmo, president of Koenig Inc., Marketing Consulting, in an article that appears on

The New York Times story pointed out that when Procter & Gamble reduced its Head and Shoulders shampoo brand from 26 to 15 choices, Head and Shoulders market share increased.

Moderator Comment: How can retailers solve the variety versus duplication dilemma?

Making stocking decisions based on criteria other than
slotting allowances would be a good start. [George
Anderson – Moderator

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