Why Less Choice Means More Satisfaction

I went to a restaurant last week that had a ridiculously big menu. It took me about 15 minutes to choose something. Once my meal came out I couldn’t enjoy it. It tasted good, but all I could think about was maybe I should have tried the salmon or the lamb or the pasta or the soup or the fish of the day… The satisfaction of my meal went down as the attractive features of the other meals went up.

Why did this happen? It happened because we don’t completely forget the options that we reject in order to make a decision. These rejected options stay in our mind and haunt us as we experience the item we chose.

There is a great little place in Melbourne called the Satay Bar, that one of my business partners introduced me to. It is the size of a shoe box, but because of its popularity it usually has a big line coming outside of it.

The reason it is so popular (apart from having an amazing taste) is that the experience is so simple. When you walk in to order you have 3 things to decide: 1)What size, 2)What meat, and 3)Rice or Salad.

Because there is restricted choice, not only is it much easier to choose what you want to order but you are much more satisfied when eating it because you are not considering any rejected alternatives.

Offering mass amounts of choice may seem like it gives you a competitive edge, but it actually diminishes the satisfaction of your customers and the chance that they will return. Remember choosing almost always involves giving up something else of value, why should we suffer for it?

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5 Comments for Why Less Choice Means More Satisfaction

Monica Hamburg - Your Dose of Lunacy | January 5, 2010 at 7:53 am

Great post, Matt. One of the things I recall from Gary Schwartz’s insightful The Paradox of Choice” is how people would purchase jam when they had only a few choices, but when they had a plethora of options would get overwhelmed and not purchase anything at all.

Also, now I wish I was in Melbourne at the Satay Bar. Sounds tasty.

Monica Hamburg - Your Dose of Lunacy | January 5, 2010 at 9:07 am

D-oh! I meant Barry Schwartz re: above comment (Gary Schwartz is a strange scientist I have been reading about lately who believes in the paranormal)

Author comment by Matt Leeburn | January 5, 2010 at 9:33 am

Thanks Monica!

The original research was done by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper. I wrote a blog on it here: http://interaction-dynamics.com/blog/2009/12/how-too-much-choice-can-kill-your-sales/

I’ve got the paper they published if you’d like to read it? Drop me an email or PM me and I’ll send it to you.

Also, Satay Bar is definitely worth the flight from Vancouver!

Mike | March 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Matt – I think that presentation of options sometimes offsets the quantity issue – we’ve evolved a long way from “any colour as long as its black” – and some business models are predicated on differentiation — great example is Pandora – who sell you a leather string and then offer 100′s of charms to fill it (the gift that keeps on giving.”

A few bars offer the “100 Beer” club another retention gimmick for libation impaired.

In sum – i think that the customer experience is key and should not be diminished by choice (nor limited by it either!)

Author comment by Matt Leeburn | March 3, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Mike – I agree. But I also think that it depends on what type of product you are trying to sell.

For instance eating at a restaurant is an experience. You plan for it, maybe for a date (puma), a birthday or some other type of celebration. You want the experience to be completely easy and stress free so that you can enjoy the food, wine, company and atmosphere. Choosing the wrong thing can add potential risk to the outcome of the experience.

Whereas buying a coffee from Starbucks (who prides themselves in having an enormous selection) is a much lower risk purchase. You pay a low price for a convenient coffee. And if the coffee/service is bad, you’re not going to go home and think about it, because it cost you less than $5.

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