In times of stress, perhaps less equals more

choices1Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens are among the major retail chains paring brand-name products from their shelves in favor of private-label brands. This means fewer choices for consumers. Although conventional wisdom has it that people prefer more options, and a recent analysis in the Journal of Consumer Research seems to back this up, a piece in The New York Times challenges this theory. Reporter Alina Tugend questions whether choice overload can create anxiety and “paralyze people or push them into decisions that are against their own interest.”

Tugend describes a study by Columbia University business professor Sheena Iyengar. When a booth in a gourmet supermarket offering samples of jam included six varieties, 30 percent of shoppers who stopped by bought a jam; when the booth offered a much wider 24-flavor selection, only 3 percent actually purchased something. (But while 60 percent of customers stopped by when more flavors were on offer, the six-flavor selection attracted only 40 percent.)

Photo Credit: D’Arcy Norman

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