What Size With That? The Impact of Choices

Lately I have been struck with the number of studies demonstrating how the decisions we make are so heavily influenced by the choices presented to us. If we’re presented with two options, of which one is clearly superior, we’ll not only choose the superior option, but we’ll be much happier choice later on. For example, if your choice is between the Hyundai and the Toyota, months later you’ll be much happier with that same Toyota than would have been had you chosen it from a choice set of that Toyota and a Lexus.

Recently two more studies were announced on this same topic. In, The Big Gulp: Consumers Avoid Extremes in Soda Sizes, researchers discovered that customer selections of drink sizes are influenced more by the choices available than how much they really want to drink. Curious about the growing sizes of drinks available in fast food restaurants, the researchers looked at the impact of those choices on what customer’s ordered. When the drink sizes available were 12-, 16-, and 21-ounces, customers chose the 16-ounce drink most frequently. But when the choices were changed to 16-, 21- and 32-ounce drinks, they chose the 21-ounce size. And what happened when the sizes were changed to 21-, 32-, and 44-ounce drinks? You guessed it. They ordered the 32-ounce drink.

Too Many Choices Can Spoil the Research demonstrated the power of simplicity. The researchers asked participants to choose among a number of options for ordering pizza or choosing vacations. They designed 22 different questionnaires with varied amounts of attributes. They found that the more efficient the study design (i.e., the more choices available to the participant), the less consistent participants were with their choices. When studies were narrowed down instead to criteria such as the importance of a pizza that is delivered quickly versus quality ingredients, the quality of research findings increased dramatically. This aligns with other research demonstrating that when selections are overwhelming, we tend to shut down intellectually and make choices based more on familiarity, instinct or whim.

Which just reminds me yet again of the importance of appropriately framing choices, for myself, or for customers.