Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Choice?

Last Updated Apr 3, 2009 7:48 AM EDT

The Takeaway: We've blogged before about whether an explosion in consumer choice (novel length menus at Starbucks and four shelves worth of toothpaste options, for example) is good for profits and good for mental well-being, pointing readers an entertaining TED talk from Malcolm Gladwell arguing more choice equals higher profits, and another from Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore College psychologist who insists that choice is making us really miserable. Who's right is still an open question (and maybe they both are), but today the BPS blog weighs in with more scientific evidence that there really is no such thing as too much choice.
Benjamin Scheibehenne and colleagues have waded into the topic with the claim that the "too-much-choice effect" has in fact failed to appear in many experiments, and with the real-life observation that shops that offer more consumer choice tend to be more successful.

In a series of experiments, Scheibehenne's team tested 598 participants who were asked to choose from among restaurants, charities and music downloads. Throughout, they varied factors that they hoped might explain why the too-much-choice effect sometimes occurs and sometimes doesn't.

For most of the experiments, the too-much-choice effect wasn't actually observed and when it did, the only relevant factor which increased the effect was the need to justify one's choice.

So go ahead then and stock all 857 varieties of toothpaste â€" you won't scare away any customers, as long as you don't quiz them about why they selected the particular tube they did. Anyone wanting to get into the nitty gritty details of Scheibehenne's study, can find the paper in the journal Psychology and Marketing.

(Image of 16 varieties of Colgate by Frankie Roberto, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.