Early this year I attended an excellent, thought-provoking presentation by the very lovely Professor Sheena Iyengar from Columbia Business School on her (small-scale) choice experiments. The results seemed to suggest that consumers could easily experience choice overload. And the implication for marketers was to beware of offering lots of choices because this can actually depress sales.
It was this last implication that worried me because (a) it seemed to clash with the real-world evidence, and (b) there are good logical reasons why different consumers on different days might notice/want different things, so more choice should satisfy more people.
I asked Prof Jordan Louviere, director of the Centre for the Study of Choice, and one of the world’s top authorities. He replied bluntly “it’s worthless. These guys do not understand how to run experiments properly and/or how to properly analyse data, so they draw totally inappropriate conclusions about their results.”
Supporting Jordan’s assessment is that replications of Sheena’s experiments by other researchers have failed.
Now the Journal of Consumer Research has published a meta-analysis of 50 different choice-overload experiments (including Sheena Iyengar’s) across categories and countries. The results show more choice options led to more (not less) consumption, there is no generalised choice-overload effect, and no conditions could identify why different studies get different effects.
No doubt consumers can find choices bewildering at times. Marketers need to help them out e.g. by giving them signposts.
But the conclusion that offering more choice can easily decrease sales is an incorrect message. More choices increases sales.
Can There Ever Be Too Many Options? A Meta‐Analytic Review of Choice Overload
Author(s): Benjamin Scheibehenne, Rainer Greifeneder, Peter M. Todd
Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 37, No. 3 (October 2010), pp. 409-425