The Jam Experiment – How Choice Overload Makes Consumers Buy Less

We assume that if we offer our customers more choices, then they’ll be more likely to buy our products since it’s more likely that they’ll find what they’re looking for.

That’s why most companies offer a wide variety of products. Different types of jeans, cars, food, you name it. That way, we think, our customer can find exactly what he or she likes.

But here’s the paradox of choice: if a person is presented with too many choices, he or she is actually less likely to buy.

In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper from Columbia and Stanford University published a study about jams. On a regular day at a local food market, people would find a display table with 24 different kinds of jams. Then on another day, at that same food market, people were given only 6 different types of jam choices.

Guess which display table lead to more sales? Exactly.

Iyengar and Lepper found was that while the big display table (with 24 jams) generated more interest, people were far less likely to purchase a jar of jam than in the case of the smaller display (about ten times less likely).

The study shows that while choice seems appealing, at first sight, choice overload generates the wrong results.

Choice paralyzes the consumer.

And it’s not just the sales volume that’s impacted, customer satisfaction takes a hit as well. In the study, the bigger display of jams lead to a lower customer satisfaction than the smaller display, proving that choice can actually demotivate the customer.

Since 2000, there’s been a ton of research on the topic and studies in other areas (like food and clothing) have shown the same results.

So more isn’t always better. But where lies the right balance?

In an extensive study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in 2015, researchers analyzed a total of 99 ‘choice studies’ and specifically looked at those cases in which reducing choices helped to boost sales.

They found four criteria that motivate consumers to buy:

  1. When people want to make a quick and easy choice
  2. When the product is complex (so fewer choices help the consumer make a decision)
  3. When it’s difficult to compare alternatives
  4. When consumers don’t have clear preferences

So as you can see, when it comes to choices, less is more.

 

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