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Many Options Cloud Consumer Judgment on Future Purchases

choices . / Credit: Consumer Choice Image via Shutterstock

While consumers usually prefer to have as many choices as possible when shopping, new research shows that's not always the case.

A study by two professors at Washington University in St. Louis revealed that shoppers' preference for a larger variety of selections decreases when purchasing something considered psychologically distant, such as when they have to make buying decisions that are six months away.

"The lure of assortment may not be as universal as previously thought," the study's authors, assistant marketing professors Joseph Goodman and Selin Malkoc, wrote in the research. "Consumers’ preferences for large assortments can decrease due to a key psychological factor — psychological distance."

While retailers have known for decades that consumers favor large selections and are enticed by more options and greater variety, the research shows their preference changes when making decisions related to the future, like vacations, insurance or retirement planning.

"In such instances, consumers tend to focus on the end goal and less about how to get there and this leads to predictable changes in consumer behavior," Malkoc said.

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When planning a vacation that is months away, the research found shoppers would prefer to hear about fewer dining options in the city they will be visiting, than if their vacation was coming up in less than a week.

“In product categories where psychological distance is automatically evoked, it might not be necessary for retailers to offer a large and overwhelming number of options," the authors wrote in the study. "Consumers may even be attracted to those sellers offering a smaller and simpler assortment of options."

The study, "Choosing for the Here and Now vs. There and Later: The Moderating Role of Psychological Distance on Assortment Size Preference," is scheduled to appear in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Follow Chad Brooks on Twitter @cbrooks76 or BusinessNewsDaily @BNDarticles. We're also on Facebook& Google+.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.