Is Less Really More?

My 9-year-old daughter is lovely…

Most of the time…

But if you really want to see her wind me up, come with us to order a pizza.  She will not make a decision.  How hard can it be? Hawaiian, or Mighty Meaty, or Volcano Supreme?  It isn’t as if she even likes the spicy ones. But as she says: “there are too many, how do I know I am going to pick the best one?”

And what she means is how will she feel if he little sister (4) picks a better one?  It would be a catastrophe.

My daughter hates to choose.

It transpires that she is not alone.

Everybody hates to choose

In 1995 Sheena Iyengar conducted an experiment.  She set up a stall at a food market in California selling a range of jams:

  • Half the time she displayed twenty-four different jams
  • Half the time she showed only six

And this is what she discovered…

Too much choice paralyses us

The large selection drew 60% of shoppers to the stall.  On average they tried two pots and then 3% went on to buy a pot (1 pot sold for every 56 market visitors).

For the small selection only 40% of people stopped to look.  As with the large selection they tasted two pots but 30% of them went on to make a purchase (1 pot to every 8 visitors).

It isn’t just my daughter who doesn’t like to choose, neither does the jam buying public of California.

How can you turn this to your advantage?

The answer to that is clear in a sales and marketing world, but this site is about operations, so other than the obvious point about product complexity how could you use this information to your advantage?

If you have ever visited London you will have used the tube, the London Underground.  It carries over a billion passengers every year to two hundred and seventy stations along two hundred and forty-nine miles of track. It is a maze of complexity; a couple of false turns and you wander round for months, never seeing daylight, yet passengers funnel through it with amazing efficiency.

There are a whole host of ways that London Underground shepherd passengers around, not least the famous map, but one of the key mechanisms the tube uses is to remove choice. The signs offer simple decisions:

  • Bakerloo Line this way
  • Everywhere else that way

So passengers don’t get confused and everybody gets where they want to be.

How can you cut choice in your operation?

How could you use the same logic in your operation?  Could you…

What could you do to reduce choice and confusion for your customers?  (Now would be a good time to write down 5 things).

Of course, for a real win maybe you could convince your marketing department to sell fewer types of jam.  (But I wouldn’t hold your breath).

Enjoy this post?  Click here for updates delivered direct to your inbox

choice reduction

Watch Sheena Iyengar

Image by sara~


  1. Hi James,
    I thought Sheena Iyengar’s Tyranny of Choice was a great piece of work.

    Don’t you think that sometimes we need to turn the tables and rather than thinking about what we do want start by thinking about what we do not want?


  2. Hello James

    Great point. And I can tell you that people really struggle with focus and choice making. Take websites – it is a challenge to come up with a great website for many organisations because the people in the organisation want it to be all things to all types of users. So instead of a thoroughbred it ends up as a camel!


Speak Your Mind