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It’s great to have choice. But as with so many other things, too much choice can be a bad thing.

In a study* conducted in 2000, customers at an upscale grocery store encountered a tasting booth displaying either 6 (limited choice) or 24 (extensive choice) different varieties of jams. Among other things, the following data were collected:

  • The percentage of passersby who approached the booth.
  • The percentage who actually made a purchase.

The results were astonishing. Although the booth with 24 varieties attracted more initial interest (60% of passersby approached the booth, as opposed to the 40% who approached the booth with 6 varieties) it was a dismal failure when it came to making sales.

We’re not talking a subtle difference. The booth offering 6 varieties converted at 30%; the booth offering 24 varieties converted at 3%. That’s right, limited choice outperformed extensive choice by a factor of ten.

So if you think you’re doing your customers (or yourself) a favor by presenting extensive options, think again. You might well be better off presenting only a handful of the best options. Too much choice can lead to decision paralysis.

*Iyengar, Sheena S. and Mark Lepper (2000). “When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 76: 995-1006.