I was tricked by this book, The Paradox of Choice.
I was sure this book was a great marketing book. I was drawn in by a great study conducted about jam.
In the first part, they sampled six kinds of jam at a food store. In the next part they sampled 24 kinds of jam at the same store. The theory here was that if people had more options to choose from, they would be more likely to find the jam that best satisfied them or was the best fit for their personal and unique flavour preferences and therefore they would sell more jam.
In each case, the customers sampled about the same number of different jams. In the end, even though they were more likely to find a jam that fit their tastes better, they bought less jam.
This didn’t jibe with my impression that more choice was a better option. By offering more options you would be more likely to offer something the customer would want.
From here I was drawn in: Would this book answer the questions “If we offer more kinds of beer, will we sell more?” and “If we offer a greater variety of magazines, will we sell more ads?”
From here the book became a lot more psychologically based, making the argument that in modern times we have become overwhelmed by choice. The growing choices on the grocery store shelves; peanut butter in smooth, chunky, light, natural, nut free, plus all of the brand choices.
But beyond that, the increasing choice in our life — multiple careers, marry or not, have kids or not, retirement planning, where to live, how to live – and how many of these choices were less real in the past.
“The transformation of choice in modern life is that choice in many facets in life has gone from implicit and often psychologically unreal to explicit and psychologically very real. So we now face a demand to make choices unparallelled in human history.”
All of this new choice caused great stress. But what does this have to do with the world of business or sales and marketing?
Then the book takes a turn to what I found more relevant: How will people make the decisions in life as well as, and applicable, to their purchase decisions? How will people react to the same information in a different presentation?
For instance, a customer prefers to see 10-cent discount on fuel for paying in cash than a 10-cent surcharge for using credit, even if the actual pricing structure remains the same.
And the way a grocery store shelf is laid out will influence how much a customer will end up spending in the store.
By giving a shopper fewer options to choose from in an end aisle display will result in greater sales, apparently due to the decreased stress involved in the decision making process.
An entire chapter is spent on the two kinds of people and how they make a purchase decision. The maximizer will search far and wide for the best option and the best price. Meanwhile, the sufficer will look only until they find a product that satisfies them and make the decision then.
This was an interesting look at who would be “happier” in the long run, but interesting to me because this was an entirely different perspective and description of the two kinds of shoppers, transactional (who will only buy from you if you have the best price) and relational (who will buy from the same people because of trust).
Much of the rest of the book dealt with the psychology of choice and less applicably to the sales, marketing or merchandising. I’m glad I was tricked into reading this book, believing I was reading a book about improving sales.
In the end, a greater understanding of how a person comes to their purchase decision can only be helpful and this was a refreshingly different approach to the way most of the books I read deal with what, in the end, turned out to be very much the same subject.