Your dinner at a California MIXT could have required choosing among 55 specialty ingredients, quite a few greens, some grains, and a long list of dressings.
You can see some of the alternatives in this partial image of the MIXT “Design Your Own” menu:
you could just get the Golden Warrior:
Where are we going? To how assortment size affects what we buy.
The Riddle of Choice Fatigue
For a long time (as reported in a past econlife) marketing scholars, behavioral economists, and psychologists have concluded that too many decisions can impact our subsequent behavior. Called choice fatigue, we get tired out from too many options. Consequently, we buy less or select an easier alternative.
But now, researchers point out that it isn’t that simple.
In fact, we have a “decision-making timeline” that can determine whether we experience choice overload. When we start to make a purchase, elaborate assortments entice many of us. However, once we actually have to choose among them, we might back off and buy nothing.
In one experiment with jelly beans and another with chocolate, Stanford researchers observed more buying with the first option than with the second one:
- First decide whether or not to buy something. Then choose from a big assortment.
- First choose from a big assortment. Then decide whether or not to buy something.
The results indicated that people want to make a purchase when they see they have many choices. However, they are less likely to buy the item if initially they have to choose from many possibilities. At first the benefits loom larger (#1). But then, the cost of choosing could be daunting (#2).
Our Bottom Line: Demand
Choice fatigue provides some insight about the demand side of markets. Too many decisions can be exhausting. Increasing cost (defined economically as sacrifice), they can make us buy less.
However, choice can also be appealing when it requires no effort.
So, returning to where we began, MIXT could indeed attract a clientele because of a large menu. Then though, many of those diners order the default–a salad entree that is pre-selected…
Or, when buying a car, they buy the default deal rather than debating each option.