Consumer choice really does help sales

Consumers with just one choice are more likely to seek out alternatives, researchers from Tulane University reported in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Author Daniel Mochon said: that “there has been a lot of recent attention devoted to the pitfalls of presenting consumers with too many options.”

However, he noted that “consumers may also react negatively when choices are too restrictive. Isolating an option, even temporarily, may increase how much consumers search and potentially the likelihood that they make no purchase.”

These findings go against what most of us would expect. The accepted theory is “give customers too much choice and they will never make up their minds”.

So, logically we would expect a reduction to just one item would make it easier for them to pick one. Not so!

Mochon explained that in the case of, for example buying a camera, if you limit customers to just a single item to choose from, they are less likely to buy from you. “In fact, consumers may be less likely to choose a specific camera when it’s the only option.”

Consumers with no choice bought less

Mochon quotes one study in which consumers were asked to buy a DVD player. They were divided into three groups:

  • The Sony group – they were presented with just a Sony DVD player.
  • The Philips group – they were presented with only a Philips DVD player.
  • The two-options group – they were presented with a choice of either a Sony DVD player or a Philips DVD one.

Those in the two-options group were much more likely to buy a DVD player.

Consumers with just one option like to search for more choices

If you present shoppers just one item, their desire to search for other options grows, Mochon explained.

This means that consumers are likely to reject a product they would otherwise have bought if they had been presented with two or more. “For example, a consumer shopping for a DVD player may be willing to purchase a Sony model when another option is also available, but unwilling to purchase the same Sony when it’s the only option.”

If you want to optimize your sales, consider carefully how options are presented to your customers.

Mochon concluded:

“Companies should consider how options are presented to consumers. Restricting options can have lasting effects on choice. Consumers who are initially offered only one option are more likely to continue searching for alternatives even when other options are later presented.”