“Less is more” is not an adage you’re likely to find in marketing. When it comes to selling goods, conventional wisdom affirms that more is indeed more—offering a greater array of product options increases the likelihood customers will find what they need and buy.

Some observers, however, suggest that more options may not always be a good thing. One study conducted at a supermarket near the Stanford campus, for instance, found that shoppers who were allowed to taste from 24 different jams were actually less likely to purchase any jam than shoppers who were allowed to taste from only 6. Michaela Draganska, associate professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, has found that while variety does have a positive impact on brand choice, some companies, especially those with well-known brands, are going overboard and would be better off offering consumers fewer brand choices. People can become so overwhelmed by the mountain of options available in nearly every product category from breakfast cereals or 401(k) plans to cars that they’re likely to put off purchases—sometimes indefinitely.

Too many choices can sometimes serve as a drag on buying behavior when purchases are optional or may be postponed, agrees Jonah Berger, a doctoral candidate at the Business School. But what happens when someone absolutely positively has to pick up wine for a dinner party, a watch for a son’s graduation present, or bug spray for a camping trip? Does having a plethora of varieties help your brand or hurt it? In recent research, Berger found that variety is indeed the spice of hype. People perceive brands that offer greater variety as having higher quality, he says—and are therefore more likely to purchase products from those brands.

Get the full story at the Stanford Graduate School of Business