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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

How Can You Combat "Choice Paralysis"?
Lessons from the Jam Study

Have you ever walked away in confusion when you have too many choices about a small purchase or even a major life decision? Why does this happen? When does it make sense to offer your customers fewer choices?

The Jam Study and "Choice Paralysis"

We think that if we give customers more choices, they will be more likely to find what they want and then make a purchase. And, we expect that they will be more satisfied.

Psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper put up tables in grocery stores, and then on some days they offered 24 types of jams and also offered $1 discount coupons to those who bought. On other days they offered just six types of jam. With 24 jams they drew more interest, but with six jams they sold ten times as many jars. Too many choices created “choice paralysis” or "choice overload." Researchers have observed the same paralysis, regardless of whether people were choosing jobs, investment instruments, or jams.

A meta-analysis of 99 "choice studies" concluded that offering fewer choices will boost sales under four circumstances:

  • When time and convenience are important.
  • When the choice involves a complex product.
  • When comparing alternative products is difficult.
  • When customers don’t have strong preferences.

The emotional component is important, as well. Deciding among many choices takes more time and is more stressful, according to Barry Schwarz. As the number of choices increases, "Eventually, each new option makes us feel worse off than we did before."

When buyers have too many choices, they often become paralyzed and walk away without purchasing anything. Perhaps that is why experienced salespeople use closing techniques: "Do you want the red one or the green one?" or "Would you prefer 300 completed surveys or 500 surveys?"


Sam Klaidman told me about the jam study.

The Jam Experiment

Choice Overload

More Isn't Always Better

Actionable Business Insights

Copyright © 9/21 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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