Saturday, September 11, 2010

Choices... Choices!

We are faced with innumerable decisions over the course of each day, from the small and relatively inconsequential (will that be skim, whole or soy in my latte?) to larger decisions with greater potential for impact upon our lives (where we choose to live, the job we take, the person we marry).

Add to these decisions the sheer volume of options available and our choices can sometimes seem overwhelming.  Will we choose luxury or frugality, pleasure or practicality, form or function?  It is an entire field of study, which attempts to understand just what influences the decisions and choices we make... so that 'they' can sell to us better.  (read:  so they can sell 'more' stuff to us!)

New research just out, conducted by Aner Selia, Jonah Berger and Wendy Lu, has determined that the number of choices made available to a consumer actually increases the level of difficulty in choosing.  Additionally, the more difficult the choice, the more that the final decision will be based on some form of justification: how well the decision fulfills criteria based on...

  • function vs. form
  • frugality vs. luxury
  • practicality vs. pleasure

From an influence perspective, this research has clear implications on how you may want to present your options to potential consumers.  Consider first what you're selling and where it falls on the continuum above.  If your product is more on the pleasure/luxury end of things, keep the number of options small.  On the other hand, if your product is more on the practical/frugal side, a greater number of choices would be better.

Combine the above with previous research by Cialdini and his associates, who determined that the greater percentage of your sales will fall to your middle option, in order to position your product in the best light.  In their experiments, they were able to sell out a high-priced product, which enjoyed few previous sales, simply by creating/listing a more expensive option above it.  Placing it below a higher priced product made it more appealing to consumers.  The shift to the middle position moves a product from appearing to be a 'luxury' item to appearing more 'practical'.

On a personal level, bear in mind that too many options can often overwhelm us.  Instead of waffling between too many options and allowing the sheer volume of choice to lead to decision-paralysis, spend your first moments narrowing the field by eliminating options with little or no appeal.  By starting off with gaining clarity over our 'No's', we often gain the insight we need to be able to say 'Yes' more definitively.

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