Consumer Choices #1 Too many choices!

Often people assume that more is better. And intuitively you might think that having a lot of options when buying a new product is more satisfactory or desirable. But the opposite could actually be true, if we look at existing research.

Lots of options are nice!
Imagine you’re at the candy aisle. You’re craving chocolate, just a bar of plain milk chocolate. But in most big supermarkets it seems as if there are a hundred different brands that sell chocolate bars. Now you have to choose one brand, though you could buy all of them, and try all of them to make sure you get the best tasting one. However, that will most likely end up being very time consuming and you will end up feeling pretty sick in the end. Or you could close your eyes and grab a random bar. But wouldn’t that increase the chances of picking a less than desirable option?

Too many choices?
Let’s look at actual research conducted on this topic. Iyengar and Lepper (2000) have written a great article on having too many options. In their article they created different experimental settings in order to test their hypotheses. In each of these experiments participants were assigned to either a high choice condition or a low choice condition (or a control group). In the high choice condition, people received the most possible options.
These researchers found that when given a limited amount of options, participants ended up feeling more satisfied with their choices. They were also more likely to actually buy products.

Where to go for Spring Break?! So many hotels!
A lot of research on the choice overload hypothesis has focused on products like chocolates. But Park and Young (2013) have looked at having too many options in a touristic setting. Students’ choice satisfaction was measured through the amount of hotels they could choose from, for their next spring break. They found that students who had fewer than 22 options reported feeling less regret, as opposed to those who had no choice or more than 22 options to choose from.

But why don’t we like to choose from a wide variety of chocolate bar brands?
Because we end up being less satisfied, we’re less sure of our choices, and we’re more likely to end up with feelings of regret (Chernev, Böckenholt, & Goodman, 2015).
Here, I’m going to speculate that we might be facing cognitive overload when having a lot of options. Since we have so much information to take in, we might not have time to thoroughly consider every separate option. This might explain the felt regret, when faced with loads of choices.

Are too many choices always ‘bad’? Is this effect real?
According to Scheibehenne, Greifeneder, & Todd, (2010) this is doesn’t have to be the case in every situation we encounter. For example we might like lots of different options when we’re choosing an unfamiliar product, or if all options are equally attractive.
Scheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R., & Todd, P. M. (2010) also conducted a meta-analysis on choice overload. This is a statistical procedure in which results from different research experiments are aggregated in order to look at for specific effect. Through their meta-analysis they found that existing research combined did not create a robust finding. The effect size was almost zero, this means that there is barely any effect present. Although this research could indicate that the choice overload hypothesis might not actually exist, we can’t know for sure. Maybe we need to look at different conditions or set up different kinds of experimental settings. That’s the beauty of research and science.

References

Chernev, A., Böckenholt, U., & Goodman, J. (2015). Choice overload: A conceptual review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consumer Psychology,25(2), 333-358.

Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(6), 995.

Park, J. Y., & Jang, S. S. (2013). Confused by too many choices? Choice overload in tourism. Tourism Management, 35, 1-12.

Scheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R., & Todd, P. M. (2010). Can there ever be too many options? A meta-analytic review of choice overload. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(3), 409-425.

Photo credit: Swiss Chocolate via photopin (license)

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