Why People Don’t Buy When There is Only One Option

Cynthia has requested her sister Coleen to make a purchase of an electronic gadget called smartphone while she is in the city. Coleen went inside a store, which unfortunately, is selling one brand and model of smartphone. This brand is known for its quality as well as technology. But, instead of deciding to buy the unit, Coleen headed to another store.


You may have experienced situations such as Coleen’s. You may have found one that you are less likely to buy a certain products if there is no other option available. Of course, you are not only one who may have such experience. A number of consumers do. Consumers are typically more enticed to make a purchase of a certain product if there are other rival products around.


Why is that so? Let Daniel Mochon of Tulane University answer that in his new article in the new Journal of Consumer Behavior on “single-option aversion.”


Single-option aversion is in the other end of the consumer spectrum, as opposed to the Paradox of Choice. The Paradox of Choice is a widely accepted assumption the consumers are less likely to make a purchase decision if they are presented with too many options. The Paradox of Choice assumes that consumers may become too overwhelmed to make a decision if they are too many products to choose from. This means that consumers may react negatively when choices are too many.


On the other hand, single-option aversion assumes that consumers may not make a purchase decision if there is only one product to choose from. According to Mochon, consumers may react negatively when choices are too restrictive. Why is that so?


Mochon continues: “Isolating an option, even temporarily, may increase how much consumers search and potentially the likelihood that they make no purchase.”


Mochon’s research suggests that people are less likely to buy a certain item, particularly expensive ones, if only one option is presented. In the case of Coleen, she is one of the many that not purchase that smartphone since it is the only item of its kind left. She would likely go to another store where she could compare different brands and models of smartphones.


According to Mochon, while narrowing the choices would make it easier for a consumer to decide, further narrowing the selection to only one option would make it harder for a buyer to make a decision. Of course, Mochon’s assumptions have a basis.


In his study, Mochon grouped a number of consumers into three. He asked all of them to purchase a DVD player. The first group was presented with a Sony DVD player as the only option. The second group was presented with a Philips DVD player as the only choice. The third group was presented with both brands of DVD player as selection choices.


The result? Around 9 per cent of the respondents said they would buy the Sony DVD player when it was the only option. When both brands were presented, around 32 per cent of the respondents said they would buy the Sony DVD player. This means that the likelihood of making a purchase decision, in this case, almost quadrupled when other options are available. Mochon also had such study using TVs and donations. The results were same.


According to Mochon, giving consumers only one option increases their desire to search for more options, leading them to possibly reject a product they would otherwise purchase. To illustrate, he said that a consumer looking for a DVD player may be willing to purchase a Sony model when another option is also available. On the other hand, that consumer may be unwilling to purchase the same Sony DVD player when it is the only option.


In his conclusion, Mochon wrote in his new article in the new Journal of Consumer Behavior that companies should consider how options are presented to consumers. Consumers who are initially presented with only one option are more likely to search for alternatives even when other options are later offered.

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