Why Less Is More in Marketing

Are you losing sales by giving customers too much choice?


Tealfeed Guest Blog

3 years ago | 3 min read

Imagine you’re walking down a food market and you come across two stalls selling jars of jam. One stall is selling 24 different types of jam and the other is selling only six types of jam. Which stall would you be most likely to stop at to try out some of the flavors?

Most people would say they’d stop at the stall that sells 24 different jam flavors. Why? Because people love choices. In the mind of consumers, more choice equals more control; the more choice, the better.

In the mind of consumers, more choice equals more control; the more choice, the better.

Okay, so let’s assume you decided to stop at the big stall. You’re not the only one: 60% of people stop at the stall selling the most jam. Now the question becomes, would you actually decide to buy one of those jars? Chances are, you won’t. Here’s why.

The Jam Experiment

In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study, later dubbed ‘The Jam Experiment’, which turned out to be one of the most influential studies on consumer behavior ever conducted.

On one day, shoppers at an upscale grocery store in California saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam, just like the one I described earlier. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display caused more customers to stop than the small one: 60% vs. 40% for the small table.

The interesting part of this study, though, was the actual buying behavior of the visiting shoppers. When the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display: 30% of the customers presented with the limited selection made a purchase, while only a mere 3% of those who saw the extensive selection bought something.

This phenomenon, replicated in product categories such as chocolate and financial services, has come to be known as ‘Choice Overload’ or the ‘Paradox of Choice’. It’s a paradox because rationally speaking, the more choice you offer your customers, the more sales you should make simply because you’ll be satisfying more needs better. But as we’ve seen in the jam experiment, the choice actually can be demotivating and get in the way of sales.

Marketers assume that the more choices they offer, the more likely customers will be to find just the right thing. And for the most part, that’s true: offering 50 styles of jeans instead of two increases the chances that shoppers will find a pair they really like. But as we now know, research shows that there can be such a thing as too much choice.

Without a doubt, having more options enables us to achieve better objective outcomes. Again, having 50 styles of jeans as opposed to two increases the likelihood that customers will find a pair that fits. But the subjective outcome may be that shoppers will feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied.

By keeping options and choice limited, you are actually making it easier and more likely that the customer will take action. In other words, there’s proven, scientific logic to keep things clean and simple.


It’s the same thing with brand positioning. Too many factors polluting the choice weaken the result; they make the positioning statement a conglomeration of want-to-haves with very little alignment to strategy. This is what leads to the dreaded “all things to all people”-positioning:

“My product is the first to do A, B, and C for market X, improves the performance of D for market Y, while at the same time pioneering the E space for market Z.”

Such positioning contains so much that it actually says very little. The choice is good, but there can be too much of a good thing. The trick is to find the middle ground — the “sweet spot” — that enables people to benefit from variety while not being paralyzed by it.

So next time when deciding on your offering, think back to the jam jars: less is more in marketing.

This article was originally published by Yannick bikker on medium.


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