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Sell More by Adding Variety

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on August 31, 2011

People buy more jelly beans when they’re offered an assortment of colors. This is true even if all the different-colored jelly beans taste exactly the same. After reviewing 50 experiments that involved more than 5,000 consumers, researchers at Switzerland’s University of Basel, Germany’s University of Mannheim, and Indiana University in the U.S. concluded that the more choices for the shopper, the better.

There are two sorts of product lines where you are especially likely to realize sales increases when you augment variety.

1. Product categories in which you’re seeing a dramatic increase in sales. These increases are a sign that you could be a destination location for that sort of merchandise. If you’re selling lots of soccer equipment, expand the merchandise assortment to draw even more soccer equipment buyers.

2. Product categories that are underperforming in sales, compared to what you’d expect. If you’ve got evidence that other retailers are selling more baked goods than you, per square foot of merchandise space, consider expanding the variety of baked goods you offer in that merchandise space.

It’s not enough just to load on variety. It’s essential that you give the shopper a way to smoothly sort through the choices. Otherwise the abundance of alternatives will overwhelm and immobilize the shopper. As you introduce expanded alternatives, give the shopper meaningful categories to use.

Researchers at Stanford University and Columbia University find that categories enhance the sense of control by allowing the consumer to give reasons to themselves for the choices they’re making. For foods and beverages, the categories might be by taste (coffees are mild, dark roast, or nutty). For clothing, the categories might be by usage occasion (leisure, office, party). For power tools and sports equipment, the categories might be by level of expertise recommended.

Bruce D. Sanders
Consulting Psychologist
Vacaville, Calif.

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