In our culture of ‘more is always better’ are we actually making customers less happy. This New York Times article examines the idea that too many choices not only complicate the decision making process of customers but also lead them to wonder if they might have been happier with one of the myriad other options available.
In a well known research study by Sheena Iyengar professor at Columbia University in 1995 this premise was tested with booths of jam at a California gourmet market. Every few hours they would change the jam offerings from 6 to 24. While more customers were drawn to the table with 24 options, the number of customers who purchased jam after tasting the free offering was 10 times higher for customers that only had 6 options.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz also outlines the paradox of choice in this presentation on TED. He emphasizes the fact that the imagined alternative of too many options causes you to regret anything that might be disappointing about your choice. Also making one choice causes you to feel you are missing out on the benefits of other choices.
How does this paradox affect the hospitality industry? A common question in the spa industry is “What do most people do?” At a spa, guests want to know how often to book appointments, what products to use, and what services might be helpful to them. While guests don’t want to be pressured, they are seeking guidance. There seems to be a way to provide fewer options with the availability to customize. This may explain the increase in “specialized” or “customized” services at spas where there is a set cost but your therapist completes a detailed consultation and creates a treatment based on your preferences.
Can this translate into shorter restaurant menus with a statement that substitutions can always be made? What about reservationists asking clear questions about what a guest is looking for and limiting the options before recommending several rooms? I have noticed on many online reservation systems there is a smaller group of “specials” options provided at the top, if you continue to scroll many other options are available, but you are provided with a limited group to choose from to start off with. Especially if these are good deals that appeal to me I rarely scroll beyond that initial group of options. I also generally choose the first item that catches my eye on a restaurant menu, so I don’t question my decision by continuing to read. I always choose the customized massage.