When companies are deciding how many variants of a product to offer, what should they take into account?
In a series of six experiments, researchers identified a key factor: whether people see the item as:
- Utilitarian; or
- Hedonic (i.e. related to pleasure).
Two examples of the experiments include:
- Students were instructed, variously, to select a song to listen to for enjoyment or to choose one to evaluate as a task and asked how many possibilities they wanted.
- Participants were told to imagine they would be choosing paint colours for either a car driven for weekday commutes or one used for weekend excursions.
In both scenarios the people making utilitarian decisions wanted fewer choices than those thinking about pleasure. Why?
According to the researchers, people believe that when it comes to pleasure, their preferences are highly personal and may be hard to satisfy, so consumers focusing on pleasure typically prefer a large assortment. However, people are less apt to think their workaday needs are unique.
This insight has implications for retailers, because assortment sizes are critical for attracting and keeping customers and often drive decisions about buying online (where assortments typically run deeper) or in physical stores
If a firm chooses to emphasise the hedonic benefits of a particular product, offering a greater variety is likely to attract more customers, the researchers conclude. In contrast, an emphasis on utilitarian aspects calls for a smaller category size.
Whitley, S.C., Trudel, R. & Kurt, D. (2018) The Influence of Purchase Motivation on Perceived Preference Uniqueness and Assortment Size Choice. Journal of Consumer Research. 45(4), pp.710-724. https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucy031.