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Tips & Bits: More or Less?

If less is more, does that mean more is less?

Discover how keeping things simple can lead to success.

An exclusive jeweler in Switzerland that specializes in fine rings, bracelets, and necklaces has a display window that measures about 15 feet wide and 4 feet deep.

Instead of creating a comprehensive presentation to demonstrate their wide range of dazzling wares, a single item is exhibited at a time. Every day the item is changed: one day it might be an emerald ring, the next a gold bracelet, or perhaps a diamond pendant.

Could this concept of a single, lone object be a remedy to a world of cluttered inboxes, texts, Tweets, and Facebook updates?

So many of the television shows we watch have advertisements for other shows popping up along the edges of the screen. News programs have continuously scrolling tickertape informing us of weather updates, stock market gains and losses, as well as the breaking news items such as high speed chases.

Is the human brain able to assimilate all of this input? Is the visual deluge a distraction or a delight?

A recent interview of an executive with a leading sports network explained the trend of displaying animated graphics on screen. According to a study the network had conducted, there’s a growing sense among men of feeling emasculated. Exciting graphics help reinforce their masculinity.

The research showed that the busy screen makes men feel more masculine, and fuels a widespread addiction to distraction. It makes people feel in the moment, important and active.

Another trend is an increasing addiction to noise. Without noise, people feel as if something is missing, making them uncomfortable and lonely.

In one phase of the study, all of the peripheral graphics were removed from the screen. When the latest scores, updates, and breaking news disappeared, the men quickly grabbed their cell phones to check missed calls and text messages. Then, when the scrolling information was replaced, the devices were placed back in their pockets and their eyes were once again focused on the screen.

Is more … more? Or is less … more?

Or more to the point, does the purchasing habits of humans increase when presented with more options, or does purchasing rise when there are fewer choices?  A study involving 250 volunteers was devised to find out.

In the first phase, the volunteers were offered a box of chocolates with 30 different flavors. They could choose as many pieces as they liked, but they had only one minute to make their selection. Twelve percent chose just one.

Considering they were free to take as many as they wanted, the results seem surprisingly low. Their explanations included the usual excuses–“I’m on diet,” and “It’s not good for me.”

The second phase narrowed the selection to just six flavors. The reaction was totally different. Placing the same one minute time limit, 28% took a single chocolate–more than double the amount taking in the first phase!

Another study was implemented in a gourmet food store in an upscale community where, on weekends, patrons find sample tables of new items. When researchers created a display featuring a line of exotic, high-quality jams, customers who came by could taste samples, and they were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one phase of the study, 6 varieties of the jam were available for tasting. In another phase, 24 varieties were available. In either phase, the entire set of 24 varieties was available for purchase.

The large array of jams attracted more people to the table than the small array, though in both cases people tasted about the same number of jams. Buying behavior, however, proved to be much different. While 30% of the people who encountered the smaller array of jams actually bought a jar; only 3% of those exposed to the larger array of jams made a purchase.

The researchers offered these explanations:

  • A large number of options may discourage consumers because it requires more effort in making a decision. So consumers decide not to decide and don’t buy the product.
  • A large number of options may detract from the attractiveness of what people choose because thoughts about the un-chosen options conflict with the pleasure derived from the final decision.

Why can’t people ignore some of the options?

Once again, there are several possible answers:

  • First, an industry of marketers and advertisers makes products difficult or impossible to ignore. People are subjected to a constant onslaught of commercials and advertisements.
  • Second, people just can’t resist comparing what others have or are doing and allowing them to set a new standard against which the self is measured.
  • Third, people won’t ignore alternatives if they don’t understand that too many alternatives create the problem.

The pendulum swings in the other direction.

Indications of rising discontent with this trend are cropping up everywhere. Several books and magazines promote the “voluntary simplicity” movement. Its fundamental belief is that there are too many choices, too many decisions, leaving too little time to do what is really important.

A real-world example of this effect.

Japan’s largest online retailer @Cosme — a cosmetics shopping website with more than 6 million primarily female members – wanted to move beyond the online marketplace. They established a chain of brick and mortar stores featuring all the same products that were offered online in a physical environment.

However, there was a revolutionary feature that set them apart from all other retailers: only their top three products would be on display! Every hour employees change the position of the products according to their online sales.

When Estee Lauder’s new blusher jumps from third best-seller to top of the chart, the product moves up two shelves. Throughout the store, on surrounding video screens guests can view online chats discussing that same blusher. As a result, @Cosme has become one of the most popular cosmetic retailers in Japan.

Is there a lesson to be learned from these stories?

Advertisers, TV producers, magazine editors, shop-window stylists, art directors, Facebook programmers, web designers, product innovators, and bankers need to give these ideas thoughtful consideration.

In some cases, the degree of selection may be an integral part of the brand personality. The decision to offer a staggering selection or just a few choices must be arrived at on a case by case basis.

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