The more I see, the less I like

Fri, Dec 14, 2007

Simplicity Rules

This post is the last of a series about The Paradox of Choice, a book about why more is less. Leave a comment below and I may randomly pick you to win one of three autographed copies. Read more of this series.

Much like my camera buying experience, when faced with too much choice, people often choose nothing. Too many choices make us feel like we should be maximizers.

In the book, Schwartz wrote about a study that looked at jam tastings. They split the participants into two groups:

Some people were presented with six different samples on a table, while others saw twenty-four. They could taste as many as they wanted, and then were given a coupon for a $1 discount on any jam they purchased. The larger display of samples attracted more shoppers, but these individuals did no sample more different jams. Remarkably, shoppers who saw the larger display were less likely actually to buy jam than those who saw the smaller display. Much less likely.

People prefer a little pre-filtering. It’s why I have such a great experience at my local hardware store. Surprisingly, this finding remains true for smaller number of choices. In this next example, one good choice is shown to be better than two good choices:

You can get a popular Sony CD player for only $99, well below list price. Do you buy it, or do you continue to research other brands and models? Now imagine that the sign in the window offers both the $99 Sony and a $169 top-of-the-line Aiwa, also well below list price. Do you buy either of them, or do you postpone the decision and do more research?

When given only one choice, 2/3 of people go ahead and make the purchase. That means 1/3 choose to keep looking. When given two choices, an equal number of people choose each CD player, but nearly half decide to buy nothing. Here it is a little clearer, in a painful-to-implement Google chart:

This means that at a point that most people are perfectly happy to satisfice, they become overwhelmed when given more choices. As a chooser, it means being willing to “settle” when something is good enough.

As someone providing choices (to your customers, or on your website), it means doing a little bit of pre-filtering, and be willing to not have as many options, because the more we see, the less we like.

Leave a Reply