A closer look at why consumers prefer larger assortments

In a recent publication in the International Journal of Research in Marketing, titled " An Experience Utility Explanation of the Preference for Larger Assortments", Aylin Aydinli (VU Amsterdam), Yangjie Gu (HEC Paris) and Michel T. Pham (Columbia University) take a closer look consumers’ preference for larger assortments.

08/17/2017 | 4:17 PM

Although choosing from large assortments has often been found to be demotivating, a robust finding in the marketing literature is that consumers generally prefer larger product assortments. Standard explanations for this preference for larger assortments have focused on reason-based considerations revolving around large assortments enabling potentially “better” choices. The present research offers a different and novel, affect-based explanation that the relative preference for larger assortments is driven in part by the greater experience utility that consumers derive from reviewing such assortments. Because most products are carriers of positive affect (for instance, exciting new products in an electronics store, attractive designs in a clothing store, enticing smells in a bakery), consumers tend to derive greater pleasure from reviewing larger assortments compared to smaller assortments. Support for this general proposition was found across four experimental studies using different strategies to document the role of affect-based experience utility in driving the preference for larger assortments.

Their findings have important managerial implications for the design, management, and marketing of product assortments. For example, while marketers and retailers may be tempted to increase their assortment size as a means to attract customers, our research suggests that this strategy may be more effective for certain marketers and retailers than for others. Specifically, a large assortment size strategy is likely to be more effective for hedonic products (e.g., ice cream, candies, wine, perfume, luxury watches) than for utilitarian products (e.g., vitamins, cooking oil, dish towels, batteries). Within the same product category, large assortments are also more likely to be effective when consumers are expected to have experiential motives (e.g., a consumer booking a hotel or renting a car for a vacation) than when they are expected to have instrumental motives (e.g., a consumer booking a hotel or renting a car for business purposes). Moreover, our results suggest that marketers with larger assortments should promote the affective benefits of their assortments through hedonic brand positioning and/or increasing the affect-richness of their marketing materials (e.g., website, advertisements, package designs, retail atmospherics). Conversely, if marketers or retailers have relatively small assortments, it is to their advantage to adopt a more functional positioning and/or decrease the affective richness of their materials. Finally, our findings suggest that certain marketers and retailers may in fact hurt themselves by pursuing a large assortment strategy. When products are inherently aversive (e.g., medical procedures, funeral products, life insurance), marketers may be better served by offering more limited assortments.

Read the full paper >

Aydinli_AylinAbout Aylin Aydinli
Aylin Aydinli is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam since September 2014. Her research focuses on different aspects of consumer behavior, including affective and cognitive processes that shape consumers’ response to the marketing activities of firms, consumer polarization and shopping behavior in digital environments.