information architecture · user experience

‘But is expanded choice good or bad?’, from The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

I use this study as an example with *so* many projects these days that I thought it might be useful to share the original source with you here. Schwartz is sharing the findings from a series of studies titled ‘When Choice is Demotivating’…

One study was set in a gourmet food store in an upscale community where, on weekends, the owners commonly set up sample tables of new items. When researchers set up a display featuring a line of exotic, high-quality james, customers who came by could taste samples, and they were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar.

In one condition of the study, 6 varieties of the jam were available for tasting. In another, 24 varieties were available. In either case, the entire set of 24 varieties was available for purchase.

The large array of jams attracted more people to the table than the small array, thought in both cases people tasted about the same amount of jams on average.

When it came to buying however, a huge difference became evident.

Thirty percent of the people exposed to the small array of jams actually bought a jar; only 3% of those exposed to the large array of jams did so

For the detailed answer(s) to ‘why is it so’ you should buy the book (and I strongly recommend it, as I said, I reference it *all* the time). For the short answer – people don’t do well with a lot of choice. Be a good designer and help them by guiding them towards good decisions, even if not the perfect one. A decision made can be remade and refined, which is much better than not seeing your customers for dust.

2 thoughts on “‘But is expanded choice good or bad?’, from The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

  1. I remember a news article a few years ago that talked about how an abundance of choice caused a behaviour known as maximising – where a choice/decision is actually never made because the options are so wide and varied. I just googled it and found this article, by Schwartz too (and others). It quotes the jam study:

    I guess that’s one reason why everyone loved the iPod. In an over-saturated media age they could just focus on one thing – music.

  2. Leisa,

    Aside from the explanation that this is an information selection or choice problem, which is reasonable, I wonder if there’s another explanation. To wit, that faced with a narrower set of choices, we might tend to assume they are made by experts, have credibility, and are special? Special “for us,” even? Reviews are not “for us,” recommendations are “for us.” I’m only conjecturing, but I don’t buy the idea that choice is the best solution in all cases. I think luxury brands get this (which would include gourmet menus).


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