Consumers and product manufacturers, including green builders, want customized experiences and products, but when faced with many hundreds of options, people freeze, and many choose badly or find it impossible to choose at all.
Columbia University Professor Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, shares how businesses and consumers can improve the choosing experience. She also has an engaging TED talk (link below) about the art of choice.
As a graduate student at Stanford, Iyengar studied jam choices at an upscale grocery story. The store offered multiple choices of jam. In Iyengar’s study, she offered shoppers the opportunity to taste from 24 jam selections or from six jam selections at a product demonstration table. What she found was that when offered 24 choices of jam to taste, 60 percent of the shoppers stopped for a taste. However, only three percent of the shoppers purchased any jam.
When offered just six choices—only ¼ as many selections—fewer shoppers stopped for a taste--40 percent versus 60 percent. But 30 percent of shoppers actually bought a jar of jam—a fine example of how fewer choices results in dramatically more sales.
She also researched Internet car shopping. At a German car manufacturer’s Internet site she studied, buyers had to make 60 decisions in selecting a car. Potential car buyers suffered from what she called shopper fatigue when starting with high choice and going to low. For example, it seems to make sense that one might want to choose the color first; one could choose among 56 colors. What Iyengar learned from her research is that it is better to go from few choices to more choices. As the consumer proceeded from choosing among four gear-shift choices and ended with those numerous color choices, more consumers stuck with and became excited about the process of shopping for a new car.
As Iyengar puts it, “You lose people from high choice to low choice. You keep more people when leading them to choose among a few choices and then move them to more complicated choices.” The process also educates consumers about choice making.
Thus, Iyengar recommends:
1. Cut. Less is more. If manufacturers are willing to curate choice offerings, as in the jam example, and are willing to get rid of extraneous choices, it leads to more sales.
2. Concretize. Make choice vivid and real. As an example, she asked who in her audience at her TED talk would compete for a prize to drive along the most beautiful road in the world. Then she showed pictures of the really beautiful but extremely narrow and dangerous high mountain road. Far fewer were interested in the prize.
3. Categorize. Iyengar’s example was magazines. 600 magazines in 10 categories, her research found was overwhelming. Yet when a store offered 400 magazines divided into 20 categories, consumers reported they felt they had more choices. Fewer magazines in more categories gave consumers a way to tell the magazines apart.
4. Gradually increase complexity. The car choice example of moving from a few gear shifts to 56 colors illustrates this concept, which also teaches people how to choose.
Watch Sheena Iyengar talk about choosing.