When should you offer shoppers a great many choices, and when should you narrow down the choices?
For decades, consumer behavior researchers have advised that a large variety of offerings attracts shoppers, but as shoppers get closer to wanting to make a purchase, they welcome a pruning down of variety. They prefer a smaller assortment to assess.
Researchers at University of Maryland found this advice worked well with consumers who were toiling toward a goal over time, such as in a fitness program.
Some study participants were given evidence they were close to reaching their individual fitness goal, while others were led to believe they were far from the goal. All the participants were then shown a set of six protein items. In some cases, the items were all protein bars differing only in flavor. This was a low-variety set. The other participants—some who felt close to their goal and some who felt far from it—were presented a high-variety set that included a protein bar, a protein shake, and four other forms of protein supplement.
Among consumers who felt far from the goal, motivation was higher when the consumer was asked to choose among the high-variety set. On the other hand, among consumers who felt close to the goal, motivation to achieve the goal was higher when the consumer was asked to choose among the low-variety set. Similar results were found with items to be used in a diabetes maintenance program and a physical rehabilitation program.
Based on findings like these, the researchers suggested you offer a goal-seeker a broad variety of assistance items at the start and then, as the customer feels closer to achieving the goal, offer a more limited selection.
Now research findings from Washington University in St. Louis indicate that there’s an important exception to this advice: When a purchased item will be highly attractive to use, give a limited number of choices for decisions to be made in the future and a broader variety for choices to be made soon.
Here, the researchers considered choices among items like chocolates to eat, ice cream assortments, vacation destination packages, and labor-saving home appliances.
Take into account the attractiveness the consumer will find when using a purchased item and the psychological distance from the selection process. This affects whether you move from presenting a larger to presenting a smaller assortment, or the other way around.
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Limit Variety as Shoppers Approach Goals