Fifty-seven varieties. Thirty-one flavors. We all like options. In fact, the more choices the better, right? Wrong. When put to the test, the “more is better” theory doesn’t hold much water. Rather, it’s been found time and again, too many options can actually be a hindrance. Turns out, our ability to make good decisions fades when we’re faced with an abundance of choice. In this case, we oftentimes end up not making a decision or are ultimately unhappy with our outcome.
Intrigued by this, several experts in Europe decided to create their own study on the subject. They gathered 229 University students for two experiments designed to test the impact of choices on decision making.
First, students picked a simple product to “purchase” – a pen – from a list of six, 15 or 30 options which differed on one or six attributes. Then, researchers raised the stakes, replacing the “pen purchase” with the chance to win an MP3 player hand-selected by the participant himself from a collection of either six or 30 different MP3 players that differed on four or nine attributes. They wanted to know if students would try harder when the prize was more attractive.
Surprisingly, students choosing a product that differed on just a few attributes found their decision more satisfying than those choosing between products that differed on many traits. So while having some choice is nice – having too much choice can backfire. Researchers also found that when there was more complexity involved in making a choice, such as when many options were extremely similar to one another, participants experienced more dissatisfaction with their decision.
The sweet spot for decision making appears to be a narrow range of choices that differ on a few select traits. For instance, we tell readers in SHIFT, when it comes to real estate options, less is more – so narrow your client’s property prospects to help them make a better final decision on a big-ticket item. Eric Peterson, a leading Keller Williams associate, stands by this rule of thumb. “I find it helpful to never let buyers have more than three homes under consideration at any one time,” he says. “And I won’t show them another house until they take one of their ‘top three’ off the table.”
In the same vein, retailers are finding too many choices are bad for sales. In one famous experiment, Columbia University expert Sheena Iyengar found that grocery store shoppers who were shown a large number of jam flavors were more likely to stop to taste test them than shoppers who were shown a limited array of choices. However, they didn’t buy. Rather, the shoppers who were faced with fewer jam flavors were more likely to make a purchase than shoppers who had more flavors to choose from. So while consumers might initially be intrigued by a variety of choices, having too many options hinders their ability to make a purchasing decision.
Whether you’re selling big-ticket items – like a home – or small-stakes products – like jam – do some of the heavy lifting for your clients by presenting a few great choices. Not only will they be more likely to make a good decision, but they’ll thank you for it later because they will be happier with the decision they made.
What steps can you take to narrow you and your client’s choices? The answer might just be the best decision you make this year.