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Option Overload

Urth Café in Beverly Hills is one of my favorite breakfast places on the US West Coast. They have the most delicious parfaits with fruit and granola, and their Belgian waffles make me feel at home. They also have one of the most complex coffee menus. When I ordered a cappuccino, the waiter didn’t stop asking me questions: small, medium, large? Dark or light roast? Single of Double Espresso? Soy milk, oat milk, almond milk, or 2%? Creamy frothed or foamy steamed? I even had to choose between 5 different kinds of sugars. By the time I finished my order, my head was spinning.

Having too many choices can make us less satisfied with our eventual decision and even lead to poorer results. An overload of options can be overwhelming and paralyzing; sometimes, customers face so many choices that they can't decide and make no choice at all.

Professor Sheena Iyengar from Colombia University researched this phenomenon. She set up two booths of jams: one with 24 jars, the other with only 6 jars. 60 % of the customers were drawn to the larger booth, while only 40 % stopped by the booth with 6 jars. The exciting part is that only 3 % of the customers who stopped at the large booth bought jam, while 30 % of the customers who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy.

Strong brands know how to find the sweet spot between offering not too few and not too many choices to their customers.

Breakfast at Urth Cafe might be delicious; I still prefer walking into a bar in Rome, ordering a cappuccio, and enjoying it with no questions being asked. Sometimes less is more.


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