Can you sell jam? A lesson in Cognitive Dissonance!

Do our customers really want

more choices?


(Understanding the role of Cognitive Dissonance in persuasion)

Today we are going to explore the subject of "Cognitive Dissonance."

Many years ago Sheena S. Lyengar (Columbia University) and Mark R. Lepper (Stanford University) did a study. In their study, they got permission from Draeger's Grocery Store (a high end store located in Menlo Park, California) to set up two different displays of Wilkin & Sons jam. If you have never been to a Draeger's Grocery Store, they are amazing. They are known for having a wide selection for their high end clientele (over 250 kinds of mustard).

In this study they set up two displays. Both had a researcher (disguised as an employee) simply invite customers to "come and try our Wilin & Sons Jams." The only difference was how many jams they displayed.


The table featured 24 different jams.


The table featured 6 different jams.



According to the study, there was a distinct advantage to the booth that offered the best selection.

Persuasion question #1: Which display had more customers try the Wilkin & Sons jam?

The booth with 24 (extensive selection) had 60% of the people who passed actually stop by the booth.

The booth with only 6 jams only had 40% of the people who passed actually stop by the booth.


Persuasion question #2: Which display had more customers purchase the Wilkin & Sons jam?

30% of the consumers in the limited-choice booth subsequently purchased a jar of Wilkin & Sons jam. By contrast, only 3% of the consumers in the extensive-choice booth purchased a jar of jam.

What does this tell us? This research would suggest that having more choices appears desirable. The motivation to carry through with a purchase, however, is stunted.

How can this be? It is something called "Cognitive Dissonance."

More on the fancy words later. This was not the only study done by these two fine researchers. There is more.

197 students in a psychology class at Stanford University participated in a study in which they were offered the opportunity to write an extra credit essay.

Some of the students were given 6 essay topics to choose from.

The other students were offered 30 different essay topics.

The results:

74% of students offered a limited choice, turned in an essay.

60% of those offered 30 essays to choose from, turned in an essay.

That is not all:

On average, students assigned to the limited-choice performed significantly better.

So in other words, the students that were offered less to choose from, handed in more work and the work they submitted was of better quality.


Definition (Business dictionary):
State of psychological tension arising from incompatibility among a person's attitudes, behavior, beliefs, and/or knowledge, or when a choice has to be made between equally attractive or repulsive alternatives.

There are many factors of influence within the subject of "Cognitive Dissonance." However, for our purposes today, it is sufficient to understand that giving the client too many choices will result in fewer sales. This one presupposition seems to get many sales people defensive. After all we have all been conditioned to believe that more choices is better. Give the customer what they want? The hard cold reality of the world we live in, is that people don't know what they want. When faced with too many choices they freeze up.

The idea that they might make the wrong decision creates within them the potential for FUTURE REGRET!

Back on topic.
Can giving people too many choices really hurt?

In the past, we have gone on ride alongs with Real Estate agents. In one case, our student was a young aggressive woman who seemed to do everything right. She was, however, having difficulty with a challenging client who couldn't seem to find what she wanted. After riding with her one day, it was obvious that we were giving the client too many choices. We took the client to lunch at the end of the day and asked her about all of her criteria. Three days later we invited her to ride with us because "we found three homes that matched her criteria and we were sure that one of them was going to be perfect for her."

As you might guess she chose one and is still happily involved in ownership of that home. The most interesting thing about the home she picked was that she had been shown that same home before.

By framing the home as one of three choices, it became more attractive to her.

MENS WEREHOUSE has figured out that even though they have thousands of articles of clothing, that they can avoid cognitive dissonance by having the sales professional talk with the client. After a brief discovery of what the client wants, they will gather some suits, shirts and ties, offer a limited amount of options and let the client choose from that limited selection. This methodology usually results in a large sale.

How can you limit your choices to the people you want to influence? Answer that question and watch your ability to persuade clients increase!

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