A lot of choice does not have to be a problem for the customer…


At the end of week 3 of the seminar Consumer Channel Dynamics, we all know that more and more customers are involved in the value creation of a product. Consumers have more options than ever before. This variety of choices gives the consumer a better chance of finding something that fits its needs, personalities etc. But, as in any case, there are possible advantages but also some downsides. In the book ‘The Paradox of Choice: why more is less’ of Barry Schwartz (see the blog of Dimitris) you can read that the choices can be overwhelming. While reading all blogs, I discovered that the fact of ‘more choice for the customer’ is an issue frequently talked about. Will a lot of choice make a customer happy or will it confuse or frustrate a customer?

According to Barry Schwarts, the latter is the case. But, as I was searching on the internet for some more arguments pro or against the more choices, I found an article of Femke Kools which describes a research of Benedict Dellaert and Stefan Stremersch. This article shows that more choices do not have to be a problem for the customer. You can read the article through the following link:

http://www.unimaas.nl/researchmagazine/default.asp?id=115&thema=2&template=thema.html&taal=nl

As it is written in Dutch, I will further describe the main conclusions.

Except for mass products, companies nowadays also offer customized products. Pants, shoes, computers: as a consumer you can indicate your preference for every component and the company will make the product exactly as you want. This does not have to be a more expensive production method, so mass customization offers advantages to both consumers and companies. A possible downside is that the customer gets confused about the many choices and is not able to get the product he/she wants. Prof. Benedict Dellaert investigated with prof. Stefan Stremersch what the limits of mass customization are. The most important question of the research was: If you decide to offer mass customization, how do you make it as attractive as possible for the consumer?  Variation is possible in the number of choices you offer. It turned out that consumers can handle the choices well.  “It does not influence the difficulty which consumers experience. Other factors will”, according to Delleart. The mass customization process gets more easy if you see one price at the end of the choice process. If the customer sees a price for every component it chooses, he/she thinks the process is more difficult.  A possible reason for this according to the investigators: the customer thinks he/she has to do something with all the extra information. People which are familiar with the product are less affected by this issue.
There is also variation possible in the number of options offered. According to Delleart, also the number of options offered has not an effect on the experienced difficulty. What does turned out, is that it is attractive for the consumer if the options stay close to the mean.  Very often is the mean already shown in the list of choices. If you want to deviate, you actively have to choose another option. “People are most satisfied about the process and the product if they have the option to upgrade.  So manufacturers can better set the default at a basis level than at a more advanced level. This also reduces the chance that the customer buys a more advanced product than needed.

Although this article is written in 2005, I still find it interesting to also read something about the contradiction to the fact that more choices will confuse the customer. I hope you will do too!

Larissa Geitenbeek

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