This research shows that consumers can handle a large number of options, if they start off in the shallows and then slowly move toward the deep, all the while building skill and nerve. Beginning with fewer options not only warms consumers up, it helps them better figure out their own preferences, which in turn enhances their choosing experience. Over time, practicing this choosing technique will condition consumers to cope with increasing complexity.
An Open Invitation
Each of these forms of customer engagement can be technologically enabled, for example, through online networks or social media. But the heart of this method lies in better design of the shopping experience, fueled by better awareness of human capabilities. When you take this approach, the goal of your marketing is no longer to give people what they say they want. Instead, your goal is to invite consumers to enter into a collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship with you.
From the outset, your design shows them that you understand how they think and respect their desire for both control and simplicity. The message is clear: In the short run, you are helping them navigate a bewildering and even debilitating world of options. In the long run, you are inviting them to choose you.
Reprint No. 00046
- Sheena Iyengar is the S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia University and a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award. She is the author of The Art of Choosing (Twelve, 2010), from which this article is adapted.
- Kanika Agrawal is a research assistant at the Columbia Business School and a graduate of Columbia’s MFA program in writing.