Wednesday, January 28, 2004

One from column "A", one from column "B": We live in the land of plenty, where we have seemingly unlimited varieties of products to choose from to supplement our consumer lives. Need a car? Well, there's about 100 models out there for you. How about some cereal? An entire row devoted to them at the supermarket. Like to invest in a company? There's about 7 pages in the WSJ listing all those you can buy into - and those are just the public markets.

However, does all this variety make our shopping experience more valuable? Some would say "no"; that the more options you are given, the more likely you will be paralyzed by the inability to make a decision. To wit:
Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, psychologists at Columbia and Stanford respectively, have shown that as the number of flavors of jam or varieties of chocolate available to shoppers is increased, the likelihood that they will leave the store without buying either jam or chocolate goes up. According to their 2000 study, Ms. Iyengar and Mr. Lepper found that shoppers are 10 times more likely to buy jam when six varieties are on display as when 24 are on the shelf.
Read the whole post for more insight and examples, but our friends at Marginal Revolution posit that while seemingly unlimited variety may at times render us shell-shocked, it is certainly better to have the opportunity to decline to make a choice, rather than having your choice made for you.

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