Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Make the Decision Easier

People love having lots of options from which to choose, but they hate making decisions. Barry Schwartz makes the case in his book "The Paradox of Choice" that a lot of modern unhappiness is the direct result of living an age where we have an abundance of choices. Case in point: one study found that when people were presented with six different types of chocolate versus thirty different types, the people who were shown only six types were more likely to decide upon and buy one of the types of chocolate.

Give people more options, and opportunity costs rise. It compounds the difficulty of choosing between all those options.

So the marketing people who work for companies that make chocolate do focus groups, and people say they want more choice. The more, the better, they will tell you, and they mean it. But consumer behavior tells another story: the more options you give them, the harder it is for them to decide which one they want.

What's the solution here? Make the decision easy for people.

My friend Mark figured this out, and makes a decent side income working at a department store selling perfume and cologne on nights and weekends. When a woman comes in looking for a good perfume, he starts by showing her the spicy one that accosts the nostrils. Then he shows her the one that smells like powder and makes you think of Grandma. Then he moves on and brings out a fragrance that he thinks the woman will actually like and want to buy. Given two not-so-good choices and then a good one, the decision to buy the last one is an easy one to make.

In practice, it's called framing, and it's the reason that merchandise in so many stores is always "on sale". People might not want to buy the complete Futurama series on DVD in a big plastic Bender head for $109.99, but it becomes more appealing if the sign reads: "Was: $139.99. Now: $109.99!"

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