Washington: A team of researchers including two of Indian origin has found that consumers are less satisfied with their purchases if their options are presented one at a time rather than all at once.
Many decisions—selecting a bar of soap at the drugstore, an entrée at a restaurant, or a pair of shoes from Zappos—involve choosing from options presented all at once. However, many important decisions—choosing a job, a home, or even who to marry—involve options presented one at a time.
"Sequentially presented choices create uncertainty. Consumers know that alternatives will become available in the future, but not what those alternatives will be. So there is always the possibility that a better option could later be available," write authors Cassie Mogilner (Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), Baba Shiv (Stanford University), and Sheena Iyengar (Columbia University).
In a series of experiments, consumers presented with options one at a time ended up less satisfied with, and ultimately less committed to, their choices than those presented with their options all at once.
Consumers presented with their options all at once tended to remain focused on the current set of options and focused on comparing them against each other, whereas those presented with their options one at a time tended to imagine a better option, hoping it would eventually become available. This feeling of hope undermined how they later experienced their choice, resulting in lower satisfaction and commitment levels.
"The primary difference between sequentially and simultaneously presented options is the presence of alternatives. Consumer satisfaction with a chosen option depends less on its objective merits, and more on how it compares to alternatives—real or imagined. Enjoying the most satisfaction from our choices might require being willing to give up the eternal quest for the best," the authors conclude.
The study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
First Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012, 19:12