Choice is good, up to a point

Choice Paradox

Too much choice will lead to indecision and lower sales

In a study of jam, consumers were more likely to buy when offered 6 jams (40%) instead of 24 jams (3%). Consumers also reported greater buying satisfaction.

Iyengar, S; Lepper, M (2000) When Choice is Demotivating Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2000, Vol. 79

When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.

And so then, a quote from Barry Schwartz’s seminal book The Paradox of Choice perfectly sets the scene of this thought.

But stepping aside from the jam experiment for a moment, it’s important to recognise the difference between choice and complexity. Consider choosing between jams on the one hand, and making a decision about important long-term investment options on the other. There is a lot more complexity involved in the latter, and the risk of putting off or not carrying out such a decision is significantly higher to a person’s wellbeing than walking out of the shop without a chosen jar of jam.

Takeaways for decision-makers

  1. Think hard about the minimum amount of choice you need, in order to clearly differentiate your brand from the competition. Look back 6 years and compare Apple’s iPhone product range next to Nokia’s, for instance. Choice can be a confusing burden as much as a convenience.

  2. Every decision you fail to take to focus and simplify your range, is one more that your customers will be burdened with, every single time.

  3. Too much choice can be perceived as a lack of confidence in your own brand. Being asked 12 different questions about how you want your burrito will be cognitively-tiring and leave many wondering why the company can’t be more bold and self-assured with respect to its product.

  4. Streamline choice architecture to encourage some sort of ‘good’ decision (whatever you, as a decision-maker, determine ‘good’ to be) where one would otherwise not take place at all. For instance, reducing choice and consumer apathy within a user flow at key intervals where drop-off has been found to be high will increase conversion.

  5. You’ll have to work harder & spend more to market the differences between the products in your range, the more choice you offer.