The Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice

I’m a sucker for Girl Scout cookies.

Just ask my seven-year-old neighbor. She knows she can count on me for a sale each year. She also knows that, no matter what new cookies debut, I’m going to buy my old standbys. (Samoas, if you’re wondering.)

This year, the Girl Scouts have finally gotten smart and narrowed their 25-item product line to six: Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Tagalongs, Samoas, Trefoils and Lemon Chalet Creams.

Why? Because these cookies make up 77 percent of sales.

When you look at the production and marketing costs for the other 19 cookies, they add up to a lot of wasted money. Offering too many options can also stifle the urge to buy.

The Paradox of Choice

Author Barry Schwartz describes this problem in his book, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.” In one study, researchers set up a table of jam samples at a gourmet food store. Some people could choose from six jams; others 28.

“The larger display of samples attracted more shoppers, but these individuals did not sample more jams,” Schwartz writes. “Remarkably, shoppers who saw the larger display were less likely to buy jam than those who saw the smaller display. Much less likely.”

Instead of weighing 28 options to choose a free jam sample, many people decided to choose none. Imagine how that variety would impact costly purchases, where the stakes for consumers are higher.

Why Less is More (and More is Less)

That’s why too much variety can actually hurt your sales. Yet many small business owners assume that the more lines they cast, the more fish they’ll catch.

Take a look at your business and see if you can eliminate a few choices. Do you offer products or services that don’t generate sales, in hopes that the right person might come along? By cutting the clutter, you may improve your overall sales.