“More Looks, More Styles, More Choices” trumpets the headline in
a cabinet brochure. At first, it sounds good. The more you offer,
the easier it will be for your customer to find the perfect kitchen
and buy it from you.
Growing evidence, however, suggests the contrary. A large array
of options may keep consumers from buying because it increases the
effort required to make a decision.
This is the argument presented by Barry Schwartz in a newly
released book, “The Paradox of Choice.” Schwartz, a professor of
Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, cites a
series of studies disputing the idea that more choice is better. He
claims that while some choice is good, too much leads to conflict
Schwartz writes that, in the past few decades, as the number of
choices facing American consumers has escalated, the value of
freedom of choice has declined. He points to options in phone
service, utilities, health insurance and retirement plansall areas
where we once had no choice. All of this choosing leaves consumers
overwhelmed and stressed out.
Choice can create conflict, he explains. “Adding a second option
creates a conflict, forcing a trade-off between price and quality.
Without a compelling reason to go one way or the other, potential
consumers pass upaltogether. By creating the conflict, this second
option makes it harder, not easier, to make a choice,” Schwartz
Choosing a kitchen or
bath is very complex and emotionally loaded, for a number of
First, there are the “opportunity” costs that is, the prospect
wonders, what else could or should he do with the money? Buy a car?
Make an investment? “Difficult trade-offs make it difficult to
justify decisions, so decisions are deferred,” Schwartz notes.
What’s more, decisions about our homes are highly emotional
because of what they reveal to the outside world. “Freedom of
choice has expressive value,” Schwartz observes. “Choice is what
enables us to tell the world who we are and what we care
Such decisions are even harder for people Schwartz identifies as
maximizers, that is, people who want the absolute best. Satisfiers,
on the other hand, are focused on choosing something good enough.
“It’s not that satisfiers settle for mediocrity; it’s that the
satisfier is content with the merely excellent as opposed to the
absolute best,” he explains. Maximizers engage in more product
comparisons, take longer to decide and spend more time comparing
their purchase decisions to others.
Given a plethora of choice, how do consumers, both maximizers
and satisfiers, make decisions? They go with what’s familiar, make
comparisons, try to avoid losses and seek ways to justify
Advertising plays a key role. “More than anything else, we get
information from advertising,” Schwartz says.
“Studies have shown that familiarity breeds liking,” he writes.
“when products are essentially equivalent, people go with what’s
familiar, even if it’s only familiar because they know its name
They also make decisions, especially on pricing, by making
comparisons. “When we see outdoor gas grills on the market for
$8,000, it seems quite reasonable to buy one for $1,200,” Schwartz
explains. Even if high-priced products don’t sell, they help drive
sales of lower priced products by making them look like a better
With this in mind, find out where your prospects have already
shopped. If they’ve been to a big box, they’ll have a different
price frame of reference than if they’ve shopped at an exclusive
People aren’t necessarily
seeking to gain when they make a decision. It’s more important to
avoid a loss. Losing produces a feeling of negativity that is more
intense than the feelings of elation produced by a gain. Some
studies have estimated that losses have more than twice the
psychological impact as equivalent gains, Schwartz points out.
A study with big implications for our industry compared the way
in which people buy cars. In one version, people were offered the
car loaded with options and had to eliminate ones they didn’t want.
In the other, they were offered the car without options and asked
to add in features. People asked to eliminate ended up with many
more options than people who started with a bare bones car and
added in options. That is because when options are already attached
to the car, passing them up entails a powerful feeling of loss.
When the options are not already attached, choosing them is a gain,
and doesn’t carry as much emotional weight.
Remember, it will hurt your prospect more to take out a design
detail than it will excite them to add it in later.
Consumers want to be able to justify their choices and two
dissimilar choices will help them do that. If two similar and
attractive options are offered, it makes the decision difficult.
However, when differences are clear, a comparison justifies the
purchase, Schwartz points out.
Difficult trade-offs make it difficult to justify decisions, so
decisions are deferred. Easy trade-offs make it easy to justify
decisions. Single options lie somewhere in the middle.
Bottom line: Pre-edit selections for consumers to make it easier
to decide, guide them through choices, don’t offer too much and
don’t make too many promises.