Consumers would rather have a simple decision making process than more options

The paradox of choice has been well-documented, but a new study from the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research offers an explanation of the hierarchical consumer choices that lead to dissatisfaction with an overwhelming number of options – and how we can overcome these shopping crises.

"This research examines consumer choice as a decision process that comprises two different stages: selecting an assortment and, subsequently, selecting a particular option from that assortment," explains Alexander Chernev (Northwestern University).

Chernev argues that two conflicting goals are in play when we shop: maximal flexibility and minimal decision complexity. When choosing where to shop, we tend to opt for maximal flexibility, preferring to have a large assortment of options. However, when test subjects were asked to focus on the idea that a larger number of options – say, at a Wal-Mart – would make the final decision of what to purchase more complicated, they tended to revise their original choice and go for a smaller, less varied assortment.

Moreover, there is an additional danger to offering too many options, even if it does draw people into the store. As Chernev explains: "…increasing the size of the assortment tends to complicate the decision process and decrease the overall probability of purchase".

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Alexander Chernev. "Decision Focus and Consumer Choice among Assortments" Journal of Consumer Research. June 2006.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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