Planning ahead: Consumers prefer fewer options when thinking about the future

June 19, 2012

Consumers generally prefer having more options when choosing among products but not when making choices involving the distant future, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"The lure of assortment may not be as universal as previously thought. Consumers' preferences for large assortments can decrease due to a key psychological factor—psychological distance," write authors Joseph K. Goodman and Selin A. Malkoc (both Washington University in St. Louis).

Retailers have known for decades that prefer large selections and are lured by more options and greater variety. For example, when planning a family outing to an ice cream shop this coming weekend, a consumer would most likely choose the local shop offering thirty-three flavors over another in the neighborhood offering fewer options.

How universal is this demand for more choice? Are there instances when smaller selections are acceptable or even desirable? The authors found that consumer preference for larger selections decreased for decisions involving psychological distance when consumers had to choose between restaurants, ice cream shops, chocolatiers, home appliances, and vacation packages. Psychologically distant events take place in a far-away location or in the future.

Psychological distance is common concern when consumers are making decisions related to the future such as vacation, insurance, or retirement planning. In such instances, consumers tend to focus on the end goal and less about how to get there. When planning a vacation that is months away, a consumer would probably prefer to hear about fewer dining options in the city they will be visiting than if their vacation was coming up in less than a week.

"In product categories where psychological distance is automatically evoked, it might not be necessary for retailers to offer a large (and overwhelming) number of options. Consumers may even be attracted to those sellers offering a smaller and simpler assortment of options," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Categories help us make happier choices

More information: Joseph K. Goodman and Selin A. Malkoc. "Choosing for the Here and Now vs. There and Later: The Moderating Role of Psychological Distance on Assortment Size Preference." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2012.

Related Stories

Categories help us make happier choices

July 17, 2008

Most of us have stood in a supermarket aisle, overwhelmed with the array of choices. Making those choices is easier if the options are categorized, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research.

How does the order of choices affect consumer decisions?

March 15, 2012

Let's say you've got to book a flight, choose a hotel, and rent a car. Does it matter which thing you shop for first? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research finds that the order of choices does affect consumers' ...

Recommended for you

Just how good (or bad) is the fossil record of dinosaurs?

August 28, 2015

Everyone is excited by discoveries of new dinosaurs – or indeed any new fossil species. But a key question for palaeontologists is 'just how good is the fossil record?' Do we know fifty per cent of the species of dinosaurs ...

Fractals patterns in a drummer's music

August 28, 2015

Fractal patterns are profoundly human – at least in music. This is one of the findings of a team headed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen and Harvard University ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

islatas
not rated yet Jun 19, 2012
Based on the information presented more research is required for a conclusion like that to be drawn. So far all that appears to have been decided is that most people will not complete the fine detailing of a future event/dedcision until it's relevant. That's just good project management and common sense.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.