备选规模是如何影响消费者做出健康选择的?

Much of a Good Thing? How Assortment Size Influences Healthy Consumer Choices
Imagine you are at a restaurant debating whether to order a healthy, but not very appetizing salad or an artery-clogging, yet delicious hamburger with all the works. What would lead you to choose the salad? New Wharton research suggests your decision might not be dictated by the fear of retribution from your doctor or partner or any other factor offered up by conventional wisdom. Rather, what may matter most is how long the menu is.

In a paper titled, “Variety, Vice and Virtue: How Assortment Size Influences Option Choice,” Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger, Wendy Liu, a marketing professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Aner Sela, a doctoral student at Stanford University, describe five experiments exploring the nature of choice using ice cream, fruit and electronic equipment. The researchers found that increasing the number of goods or services available to consumers can lead them to make sensible choices, because they are easier to justify than more indulgent ones.

Conventional wisdom suggests that providing a larger selection of goods encourages consumers to make a purchase because they are more likely to find a product that suits them. “Today, the consumer is confronted with many more options than ever before,” says Berger. While stores may once have stocked just two types of ketchup, there may now be 10 — or 100 magazine titles when there were once 25.

Recent research by other academics, however, has shown that as the size of an assortment grows, consumers can become overwhelmed and often choose not to choose. According to Berger, the concept is known as the “paradox of choice.”

But there is a richer layer of complexity when consumers are in a situation where they have to make a choice. To explore that situation, Berger and his fellow researchers set up a series of experiments offering coupons or token amounts of cash to participants as a way to study how the number and variety of assortment determined what they purchased.

Decisions, Decisions

“Choosing from larger assortments tends to increase choice difficulty and, consequently, can cause consumers to rely more on accessible justifications when making their choice,” the authors note in their paper, which was published in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. “As a result, we argue that choosing from a larger assortment should lead consumers to select options that are easier to justify.” According to Berger, the situation boils down to a showdown between nice-to-have versus need-to-have products. “It’s easier to justify eating healthy fruit over sinful chocolate cake, or a printer for work over a digital music player. Things that are functional are easier to justify than things that are fun.”

The first experiment was aimed at understanding the influence a large selection of goods has on a consumer’s choice. Research participants were shown pictures of ice cream and were asked to select a flavor. The smaller assortment had two choices: one full-fat and one reduced-fat option. In the larger assortment, there were 10 choices, and half the options were reduced fat. Of the participants presented with the smaller assortment, 20% selected reduced-fat ice cream, while 37% of those who had more choices selected reduced fat.

In another study, a tray with fruit and baked goods was placed at two entrances of a building, with a sign reading: “Please help yourself to one item.” At one entrance, the researchers placed a tray containing a small selection: two types of fruit and two types of cookies. They put a tray with a larger selection at the other entrance so that passers-by were presented with six types of fruit (bananas, red and green apples, pears, tangerines and peaches) and six types of baked goods (assorted cookies as well as croissants and banana nut muffins). While 55% of the participants chose fruit over baked goods from the smaller assortment, 76% did so when choosing from the larger assortment.

The researchers then tested whether the effect of assortment size would carry over into a situation in which individuals had to choose between utilitarian and pleasurable options. In this case, participants looked at samples of printers and MP3 players. An earlier test already showed that printers were viewed as more “virtuous” purchases than MP3 players. When the choice consisted of two printers and two MP3 players, only 11% chose a printer. But when the assortment increased to six printers and six MP3 players, 50% selected printers.

Further evidence that more options lead people to choose things that are easier to justify came from looking at what happened when just the number of MP3 players in the choice set was increased. While one could imagine that adding more MP3 players should increase the likelihood that an MP3 player is selected, it actually led people to choose more printers — that is, the option that was easier to justify.

Finding Justification

After establishing the relationship between choice and assortment size, the researchers designed experiments to explore the underlying forces shaping these patterns. Participants were asked whether they would choose a printer or an MP3 player from various assortments and then rated the extent to which they found it “difficult to make a decision about which option to pick.” The results were similar to the earlier experiment — the printer was selected by 51% in the larger sample and 34% for the smaller assortment. Further results indicated that increased choice difficulty drove people to choose an option that was easier to justify — in this case, a printer.

The researchers also surveyed individuals about the level of satisfaction they experienced when making virtuous choices compared to indulgences. Their findings indicate there is a “guilt factor” in which people who select a less virtuous choice from a larger sample are more likely to feel afterwards that they should have made a different choice.

The paper explores the process of how, in certain circumstances, consumers find it easier to justify less virtuous choices. For example, Berger says, someone who had just done charity work might find it easier to choose something that is fun even from a large number of choices. “If you are just coming out of the gym, you might feel justified to choose something to eat that is unhealthy,” he notes. “So while more options lead people to choose things that are easy to justify, what in particular is easy to justify may vary based on situational factors.” According to the paper, “Even seemingly irrelevant information (e.g., stating that a previous consumer chose a particular product) could provide consumers with an accessible reason that may facilitate choice.”

The researchers concede that their study results have limitations: “An important boundary condition for these findings is the extent to which larger assortments actually increase choice difficulty. If choosing from larger assortments is not more difficult (e.g., when one option dominates or when consumers have well-defined preferences), then larger assortments should be less likely to influence the type of options consumers choose,” the paper states. According to Berger, their findings show that when choice difficulty is present for consumers who are confronted with a larger assortment, they tend to choose a certain way.

Consumer Benefits

The findings have particular marketing and managerial implications, says Berger. For example, manufacturers of healthy snacks might improve sales if they sell their products in venues with many other options. An award-winning drama — which for argument’s sake may be considered more virtuous than a slapstick comedy or big-budget action film — might attract larger audiences at a multiplex cinema than at an art-house theater. At the car-rental kiosk, sensible sedans could be selected more often than flashy sports cars if the selection of automobiles is large.

The authors describe how a recruiter might react when sifting through a pile of job applications. The recruiter might be influenced by the number of candidates in the pool, the length of each application and similarities among individual resumes. “To the extent that these factors are associated with greater choice difficulty, they are likely to bias choice outcome in favor of choices that are easier to justify,” they write. “This could potentially lead the recruiter to select participants of particular races, genders or background characteristics.”

Berger says improving the understanding of the nature of choice could have a powerful impact on society. He points to the 2008 book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, by Richard H. Thaler, a behavioral economist, and Cass R. Sunstein, a professor of law at the University of Chicago. Nudge draws on psychology and behavioral economics to develop the idea of “libertarian paternalism.” Though traditionally associated with public policy making and how governments can influence citizens to make decisions to improve their lives, libertarian paternalism in this case involves how businesses can structure the environment in which choices are made to influence consumers’ decisions. For example, Berger says, restaurants can offer healthy meals; by doing so with longer menus, they might also encourage people to actually select the healthier options.

“This unanticipated benefit of assortment can potentially be used to improve consumer welfare — but with caution,” the researchers write in their paper. “Giving consumers more options should increase their reliance on justifications for choice, but this will only improve their welfare in cases in which those reasons point them to better options. Whether the overall combination of these factors has positive or negative welfare implications remains to be seen.”

假如你踱进一家餐厅,正为到底点一份健康的沙拉还是可能会堵塞你动脉的汉堡包而举棋不定,是什么因素促使你最后选择了沙拉?新近一份研究显示,最终的选择可能与医生的劝告或其他传统观念因素无关,起作用的是菜单的长短。

在一份题为《多样化、堕落和美德:备选规模如何影响消费决策》(Variety, Vice and Virtue: How Assortment Size Influences Option Choice)的论文中,沃顿商学院市场营销教授乔纳•博格(Jonah Berger)、洛杉矶加州大学市场营销学教授温迪·刘(Wendy Liu)和斯坦福大学博士研究生恩娜·斯拉(Aner Sela)记录了如何用冰激淋、水果和电器实验,寻找客户选择本质的五次实验。研究人员发现可供选择的产品和服务数量的增加,将促使消费者做出明智选择,因为消费者更容易区分出哪些是放纵欲望的选择。

传统观念认为,备选商品越多将有利于消费做出购买决策,因为他们更容易找到称心如意的商品。“现在,消费者要面对着比以往更丰富的商品选择,”博格说道。以前商店里只有两种番茄酱,现在可能有十种。现在有100种杂志,而以前只有25种。

近期,另外一些学者研究显示,随着备选规模不断增大,消费者可能会招架不住,最终决定放弃选择。用博格的话说,这就是“选择的悖论”(paradox of choice)。

但这个问题还得更深一层,就是当消费者不得不进行选择的时候,他会如何表现?为了深入了解这一情况,博格和他的研究人员进行了一系列实验,他们向实验对象发放代金券或礼券,用以研究商品数量和种类多少如何影响实验对象的购买决定。

决策,决策

“商品分类越多,选择难度也就越大,这样的话,消费者在做购买决策时就更倚重现成的标准,”作者们在论文中这样写道。该论文发表在《消费者研究》(Journal of Consumer Research)2009年4月期上。“因此,我们得出结论,较大的商品备选规模,可能会促使消费者挑选比较容易证明有意义的选项。”博格说,这种情况可以归纳成享受性的产品和必须性产品间的比较。“对于消费者来说,比较容易在健康水果和充满内疚感的巧克力蛋糕之间做选择,或是工作用的打印机和数码音乐播放机。与只是有意思的商品相比,那些有实际功能的商品比较容易挑选。”

第一个实验旨在研究丰富的商品数量对于消费者选择的影响。研究人员会向实验对象出示冰激淋照片,并要求他们选择自己喜欢的口味。商品种类较少的实验中,实验对象可有两种选择:一个是全脂的,另一个低脂的。商品种类较多的实验中,实验对象面对10种不同选择,低脂冰激淋占一半。对于参加商品种类较少实验的实验对象,他们选低脂冰激淋的比例是20%,而面对商品种类较多的实验对象此比例达到37%。

在另外一个实验里,研究人员在建筑物的两个出口处摆放水果和烘烤食物,旁边立着一个告示牌:“请自取一份。”其中一个出口,研究人员摆放的食品较少些:两种水果和两种饼干;另一个出口摆放的食品相对丰富,包括6种水果(香蕉、红苹果、绿苹果、梨、蜜橘和桃子)和6种烘烤食物(各类饼干、法式羊角面包和香蕉果仁松饼)。在食品种类较少的出口,选择水果的比例达55%,而在种类丰富的这一比例是76%。

接下来,研究人员研究这种备选物品数量影响决策的规律,是否适用于人们面对实用和享乐选项的情况。此时,实验对象将看到打印机和MP3。此前的测试已经显示,打印机被视为比MP3“更有意义”的产品。当备选只有两种打印机和两种MP3时,选择打印机的只有11%,当打印机和MP3的备选数量增加到5种时,50%的实验对象选择了打印机。

更多的选择可能导致人们选择较容易证明有意义的选项,这一点可以通过单方面增加MP3产品数目得到佐证。人们可能会猜测单方面增加MP3的选项数目,可能会增加MP3的获选比例。事实上,此举却拉高了打印机的比例—原因是打印机更容易证明有意义。

寻找正当理由

明确了客户选择与备选商品种类数量间的关系后,研究人员设计了相关实验,来揭示导致这一现象的潜在规律。实验对象被问及选择打印机或MP3播放器的原因,并确定出实验对象认为“太难确定”的程度。结果与前面实验结果类似—在备选数量较大的组别中,打印机的比例是51%,而在数量较小的组别中,打印机的比例是34%。

研究人员还调查了实验对象在选择有意义选项而非满足物欲选项后的个人满足感。他们发现,在选择范围比较大的情况下,人们在选择满足物欲选项后的“愧疚心理”往往更强。

论文还研究了在特定环境下,消费者为何倾向有意义程度较低的选项。博格举例,那些刚刚做过慈善工作的人员,在选择丰富的情况下,也较容易选择满足物欲的选项。“如果你刚健身出来,你可能会选一些不太健康的食品犒劳自己,”他强调。“所以即便更多的选择可以让人们容易明确正确选择,但具体情况还要具体分析。即便看起来毫不相关的信息(例如,强调先前的消费者选择了何种特定商品)也可能成为左右消费者选择的原因。”

研究人员坦承研究有其局限性。论文中写道,“适用以上结论的重要条件是,丰富的选项到底给消费者决策带来多大程度的困难。如果困难不大的话(例如,一个选项明显占优或消费者已经有明确的倾向),丰富的选择就不容易对消费者的决策造成影响。”博格指出,他们的研究显示,当消费者面对丰富商品显示出选择困难时,消费者倾向于采取特定的思维方式。

消费者获益

博格指出,上述研究成果在市场营销和管理方面有特殊用途。例如,健康零食的生产商可以通过将自己的产品混同于其他食品销售,来提升销量。获奖戏剧和闹剧式喜剧或大制作的动作影片相比,应该算是更加有意义(仅是为了说明问题),放在公众影院比艺术剧院能吸引到更多的观众。如果租车公司被选车型足够多的话,相比炫耀的运动车型,消费者更多地选择实惠的轿车车型。

作者描述了,雇主面对成堆求职信时会做出怎样的反应。雇主会被求职人员的数量、求职简历信长短和个人简历间的相似性所影响。“某种程度上这些因素都会造成很大的选择困难,雇主们更倾向于采用较容易区分的标准,”论文中写道。“这就可能导致雇主选择特定种族、性别或背景的求职人员。”

博格说提高对选择的认识,会对整个社会带来深远影响。他指出,行为经济学家理查德·H·泰勒(Richard H. Thaler)和芝加哥大学法律教授卡斯·R·桑斯坦(Cass R. Sunstein)2008年共同出版的一本书《健康、财富与快乐的最佳选择》(Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness)。该书从心理学和行为经济学角度,提出“自由主义的家长制”(libertarian paternalism)理念。虽然这一话题传统上与制定公共政策以及政府如何影响公民做出有利于提高其生活质量的决策有关,但这里的自由主义的家长制可以应用于企业如何营造气氛对消费者决策形成影响。博格举例说明,提供健康饮食的餐厅,可以通过充实菜单,实际上达到鼓励人们选择健康菜品的目的。

“这种选择空间带来的好处,可以用来提高消费者福利—但要谨慎从事,”研究人员在论文中写道。“让消费者拥有更多的选择,可以提高他们对理性选择的依赖,但是只有当那些动因指向更好的选择时,这才能提高消费者的福利。这些因素综合起来会对福利产生积极或消极的影响,仍有待观察。”

Variety, Vice, and Virtue: How Assortment Size Influences Option Choice

Aner Sela
Stanford Graduate School of Business
Jonah A. Berger
University of Pennsylvania – Marketing Department
Wendy Liu
UCLA Anderson School of Management

Journal of Consumer Research, Forthcoming

Abstract:     
Research has demonstrated that assortment size can influence whether consumers make a choice, but could it also influence what they choose? Five studies demonstrate that because choosing from larger assortments is often more difficult, it leads people to select options that are easier to justify. Virtues and utilitarian necessities are generally easier to justify than indulgences, and consequently, choosing from larger assortments often shifts choice from vices to virtues and from hedonic to utilitarian options. These effects reverse, however, when situational factors provide accessible reasons to indulge, underscoring the role of justification. Implications for choice difficulty, justification processes, and decision making more broadly are discussed.

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