The Effect of Ordering Decisions by Choice-Set Size on Consumer Search

This blog post is based on the article ‘The Effect of Ordering Decisions by Choice-Set Size on Consumer Search by J. Levav, N. Reinholtz, and C. Lin.

Consumers have to make lots of choices nowadays. Making good decisions can be difficult, both for the consumer and for the company that wants to influence the consumer to make a certain choice. There are several theories on how to manipulate consumers during their decision process. In this article it is investigated on how the order of choice set sizes leads to different choices. Several experiments were conducted, of which the first one will be described below.

In this experiment participants were asked to create a CD with 10 songs for a road trip. There were 10 song selection screens, where they could listen to examples of the songs. In each screen the participants had to select one song that they would like to have on the CD. The participants were told that they would receive the CD they created after the experiment. There were two groups of participants, participants of the first group were shown a number of options for the songs that increased by five in every screen, i.e. for the first song the participants had to choose there were five options, for the second song there were 10 options, so for the 10th song there were 50 options. For the other group, there were 50 options for the first song, decreasing to 5 options for the 10th song. The experiment showed that even though both groups of participants had the same amount of choices in total, participants in group 1 sampled on average 149 songs (out of 275 songs), while participants in group 2 sampled on average 101 songs. Participants in the first group also spent more time on making their final decision.

This experiment shows that consumers facing an increasing choice-set size spent more time on searching for the best option. This effect is confirmed by the other experiments in the article. Another outcome of the experiments was that the first choice that a consumer has to make, is the most important one in influencing the mind-set of the consumer for the following choices. The level of increase in choice options is also relevant; abrupt increases tend to reduce the level of search of the consumer.

It can be concluded that ordering decisions in an increasing choice-set size is a simple way for managers to influence choices of consumers, because it increases consumer search and therefore engagement. A disadvantage of this method that has to be mentioned though is that this deeper search of consumers can lead to a lower satisfaction after the purchase.


Levav, J.; Reinholtz, N.; Lin, C. (2012) ‘The Effect of Ordering Decisions by Choice-Set Size on Consumer Search’. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(3), pp. 585-599. Available at:×300

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