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When Less Is More

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With thousands of new products introduced each year, consumers find it ever harder to navigate store aisles. One study found the average shopper spent 40 seconds or more in the supermarket soda aisle, compared with 25 seconds six or seven years ago. Although consumers may think greater product variety increases their likelihood of finding the right product for them, the reality is often different. According to research, when presented with too many options, people “choose not to choose,” even if it may not be in their best interests.

Similarly, if product quality in an assortment is high, consumers actually prefer fewer choices. Those with well-defined preferences may benefit from more-differentiated products that offer specific benefits, but others may experience frustration, confusion, and regret. Also, constant product changes and introductions may nudge customers into reconsidering their choices and perhaps switching to a competitor’s product. It’s not just product lines making consumer heads spin— many products themselves are too complicated. Technology marketers need to be especially sensitive to the problems of information overload.

Sources: John Davidson, “One Classic Example of When Less Is More,” FinancialReview, April 9, 2013; Carolyn Cutrone, “Cutting Down on Choice Is the Best Way to Make Better Decisions,” Business Insider, January 10, 2013; Dimitri Kuksov and J. Miguel Villas-Boas, “When More Alternatives Lead to Less Choice,” Marketing Science, 29 (May/June 2010), pp. 507-24; Kristin Diehl and Cait Poynor, “Great Expectations?! Assortment Size, Expectations, and Satisfaction,” Journal of Marketing Research 46 (April 2009), pp. 312-22; Joseph P Redden and Stephen J. Hoch, “The Presence of Variety Reduces Perceived Quantity,” Journal of Consumer Research 36 (October 2009), pp. 406-17; Alexander Chernev and Ryan Hamilton, “Assortment Size and Option Attractiveness in Consumer Choice Among Retailers,” Journal of Marketing Research 46 (June 2009), pp. 410-20; Richard A. Briesch, Pradeep K. Chintagunta, and Edward J. Fox, “How Does Assortment Affect Grocery Store Choice,” Journal of Marketing Research 46 (April 2009), pp. 176-89; Susan M. Broniarczyk, “Product Assortment,” Curt P Haugtvedt, Paul M. Herr, and Frank R. Kardes, eds., Handbook of Consumer Psychology (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2008), pp. 755-79.

A company lengthens its product line in two ways: line stretching and line filling. Line stretching occurs when a company lengthens its product line beyond its current range. A firm may choose a down-market stretch—introducing a lower-priced line—to attract shoppers who want value-priced goods, battle low-end competitors, or avoid a stagnating middle market. With an up-market stretch, the firm aims to achieve more growth, realize higher margins, or simply position itself as a full-line manufacturer. Companies serving the middle market might stretch their line in both directions.

With line filling, a firm lengthens its product line by adding more items within the present range. The goals are to reach for incremental profits, satisfy dealers who complain about lost sales because of items missing from the line, utilize excess capacity, try to become the leading full-line company, and plug holes to keep out competitors.

 
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