How much choice is a good thing (and how much is bad)

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choice jams

There’s a paradox in choice. Not enough — a take-it-or-leave-it option — generally fuels resentment and dissatisfaction — but too much causes paralysis, and in fact the choice becomes “none of the above” when excessive selections are offered.

These facts have relevance for marketing and business development at several levels.

For example, within the constraints of a bidding process (sometimes you must give a one-size-fits all answer under the rules), offering some options will give your potential clients a better feeling and comfort level. Just don’t overload them.

Some research studies illustrate the challenges of excessive choice. This material is reported in The Neuropsychology of Influence and Decision-Making, prepared for the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Foundation by JonRobert Tartaglione. The complete report is free for SMPS members.

In 2000, researchers set up a booth selling jams at local grocery stores. Sometimes they featured six varieties, on others they featured 24.

When only six varieties were shown, 30 percent of shoppers made a purchase; when 24 varieties were shown, the purchase percentage plummeted to just three percent.

As well, in another study, when employees were given more choices for workplace retirement mutual funds, for each additional 10 funds offered, “overall participation in any plan at all dropped by two percent.”

“In essence, people were forgoing enrolment — and hence leaving money on the table — because the prospect of sifting through so many options became overwhelming,” Tartaglione wrote.

He concludes with these observations:

By most accounts, between five to seven options is considered a ‘sweet spot’ in regards to the upper range of total options for any given choice set (primarily due to the capacity  limitations of our working memory. Less is fine, but more is often counterproductive.

Conclusion: Give your potential clients some choice, but hold the excessive variations.

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